Easy Tips to Combat Summertime Insomnia

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!

 

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Why Do Dogs Make Such Good Alarm Clocks?

Like most everyone else, I enjoy the occasional brief distraction from whatever serious thing I’m doing by popping up a quick funny video during breaks. A friend recently sent me this little clip of dogs forcing their humans out of slumber and out of their beds in the morning.

As fun as these videos are, there’s something instructive about them:  they reveal some hidden but important messages about sleep.  Here are a couple things you can learn as you enjoy watching them:

1.  Animals have sleep cycles like humans do.  In fact, even the most primitive creatures on the planet demonstrate some form of simple, behavioral rest with measurable regularity, and usually with timing that relates in some way to the earth’s 24-hour day-and-night cycle.  Why does your dog always awaken you at 6 a.m., including on days in which you want to sleep in?  Probably because she regularly awakens shortly prior to 6 a.m. every day, right in keeping with her body clock, and wants to play.  That’s what our Maltese, Molly, does.

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2.  Your dog awakens you in the morning when you want to sleep in probably because you’re sleep-deprived.  There’s likely not a lot of published literature support for what I’m about to write here, but I would venture to guess that most dogs, not having to toil every day at work or staying out late with the guys, are usually “sleep-sated,” meaning that they get as much sleep during a 24-hour period as their bodies and brains require–through nocturnal sleep and/or by napping during the day when the humans are away.  The amount of sleep a dog needs depends on his age, size and breed.  However, the vast majority of human adults require between 7.5 and 8 hours of sleep per night–and on a regular basis–to feel fully rested during the day.  How many people do you know that get that much sleep per night most or every night?  If you routinely get less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night, chances are good that your body and brain will attempt to “make up” the lost sleep by trying to “sleep in” when they get the chance–on weekends and days off, for example.  In other words, your dog is doing what you should be doing–getting proper amounts of sleep–and he is now on your bed, lapping at your ear to remind you that obeying your innate biological needs is the natural thing to do, the best thing to do.

I say dogs make great alarm clocks:  you can’t get too mad at them, there’s no “snooze” button, and they make sure you know you should wake up and get up not only sonically, but also tactilely:  with paws, claws, and slobber.  Have you ever awakened briefly at your usual time in the morning, following a long period of sleep deprivation and though you intend to sleep in, and wondered why you awakened at that time instead of sleeping straight through?  That’s your circadian rhythm telling you it’s your natural time to wake up.  Look at your dog as a big furry biological clock “by proxy:”  she obeys her body clock every day and wonders why you’re not doing the same.  Just another reason to love your dog:  she can teach you to love your sleep and respect your sleep needs!

Finally, certain dogs, like pugs and boxers (dogs with thick necks) are also predisposed to snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, but I suppose that is a topic for another day.  Enjoy the remainder of your weekend, this first weekend of 2015!  Cheers!