Don’t you love summer? All the barbecues, outdoor festivals, vacations; school’s out, with all the freedom that goes with that.
I love summer as much as the next guy. Many of my sleep patients don’t, however. I’ve found that there are a couple of times of the year in which my patients experience a spike in their insomnia: during the holidays, and during the summer.
There are several reasons why summertime can trigger or worsen difficulties falling and/or staying asleep. First, many people and many families experience lifestyle changes during the summer as compared to during other times of the year: kids can sleep in in the morning; vacations with jet lag; modifications in work hours or work timing; late-night parties and alcohol use. These changes tend to dysregulate sleep schedules, leading to insomnia. Second, it’s hot! It’s hard to sleep when you’re sweltering and sweating in bed every night; we here in Seattle have been in a month-long heatwave, a major problem because most homes here have no air conditioning! Third, because of the tilt of Earth’s axis during the summer, it’s light out late. As most can easily understand, if the sun is still up in the evening, it feels naturally for YOU to stay up. Exposure of your eyes–and hence your brain–to light has a profound impact on your sleep/wake cycles. No wonder why people tend to have insomnia during these precious summer months!
So here are some pointers to improve your sleep for the remainder of this summer:
1. Choose a time to awaken each morning, and stick with it. Even if you’re not in school or not working, determine a preferred awakening time, set your alarm clock or smart phone for that time, and awaken and get out of bed that same time every morning, including weekends. Your body clock “wants” regularity, no matter what your personal situation. Sleeping in by several hours can throw off your body’s circadian rhythms, dysregulate your sleeping patterns, and promote delayed sleep phase.
2. Keep your sleeping environment DARK. Usually Venetian blinds suck at keeping out substantial light from your room when the sun is out late. I recommend getting thick black curtains that completely cover up your bedroom window.
3. Keep your sleeping environment QUIET. Whether it’s motorcyclists or firecrackers outside your bedroom window, summertime often means lots of noise outside your bedroom. Insulate your bedroom from the noise the best you can. A fan near the bed can create a white-noise effect to drown out noises from outside. Some may resort to sleeping in another, quieter room in the home, one that is further away from the street for example.
4. Keep your sleeping environment COOL. The fan in the room helps with this, obviously, if you don’t have AC.
5. Avoid naps if you can. Naps are tempting if you have the time and opportunity, particularly if you’re chronically sleep-deprived. However, naps during certain times of the day–particularly the mid- to late afternoon–can cause substantial subsequent problems falling asleep later at night.
6. Don’t spend too much time in bed. Remember, most adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and your body generally won’t let you sleep more than what your body needs.
School is starting back up before you know it. Enjoy the remainder of your summer!