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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Sleep Well This Summer!

 

Shortly I’ll be on a plane to Wichita, Kansas, for my high school reunion.  Every time I step foot on Kansas soil a flood of great memories returns:  Friday night football games, Knolla’s Pizza, midnight movies, parties, Bionic Burger, the River Festival, Galaga, and, especially around this time of year, the all-important beginning of summer.

 

Where I grew up, summer was all about crowded public swimming pools, Dairy Queen Hot Fudge Brownie Delights, baseball, mowing a huge yard all day every Saturday, hay fever, washing dishes at a restaurant by day, dragging Douglas by night, and listening to the Police and Marillion in my little green 2002.  It was also about hanging out with my friends, and to be perfectly honest I often didn’t sleep as much as I should have.  What did I know?  Sleep deprivation and sleeping in were pretty common during the sweltering, humid summer months of my teenage years.

Sleep often suffers in the summertime.  So before I depart I will leave you with some quick, easy tips to make your sleep easier, better, and more enjoyable during these hot summer months.

1.  Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.  Insulate your room and windows from noise and light to the extent that you can.  It’s a tough time for many of us financially, but if you are unable to sleep because the room is hot, use your air conditioning; sleeping well is worth the money spent on utilities.  If you can’t fix your hot, light, loud bedroom, try sleeping in the basement.

2.  Strive to keep your sleep schedules regular.  School’s out; loved ones are visiting; the neighborhood BBQ is in full swing; you’re off on a family vacation.  There is always the temptation to party late, sleep in, and not set your alarm clock during the summer.  Your body clock doesn’t care about any of that, however.  A common cause of insomnia and daytime sleepiness is dysregulation of sleep schedules.  Continue to awaken around the same time every morning (if you don’t have to awaken at any one specific time, you would do well to choose a preferred awakening time and stick with it), including on weekends and non-work days.

3.  Mind your late-night alcohol.  Alcohol has sedative effects for the first couple hours after you ingest it.  However, after several hours it tends to be a sleep disrupter.

4.  If you’re a night shift worker, get thick black curtains for your bedroom windows and wear dark sunglasses on your way home from work in the early morning.  Remember:  it’s light out early in the morning and late in the evening when it’s summertime, so your brain can be tricked into making you feel more awake and alert if there is bright light exposure around the time that you should be sleeping.

5.  Avoid late-night exercise.  The release of stimulatory hormones when you exercise hard can last for several hours, causing insomnia.  I recommend that you stop heavy aerobic activity 2-3 hours prior to your projected bedtime.

6.  Take care of yourself.  Don’t sacrifice your health for all that summertime fun.  Obviously, anything that causes physical discomfort can be a detriment to your sleep.  Avoid sunburns and dehydration.  Use nasal sprays or see your doctor for those seasonal allergies.  Minimize hangovers.  Don’t overextend yourself.  And, as I will probably see firsthand this weekend, it’s best to remember you’re not in your 20’s when you’re, uh, no longer in your 20’s, just ’cause it’s summer.

Utilize these simple suggestions and chances are you likely you’ll be able to avoid a . . .

Sleep Well This Summer, Part 2: Keep Your Bedroom Dark

Hi, all!  This is the continuation of my short series how to sleep well during the warmer and longer days of summer.  As mentioned in Part 1, people generally find a dark, cool, quiet environment most conducive to sleep.  Today’s entry is devoted to improving your sleep by keeping your sleeping environment dark.

 

By way of background, light is an extremely potent outside influence on your “body clock,” which regulates the timing of certain biological functions of your body.  Exposure of your retinas to light stimulates a neurologic pathway through your brain, essentially telling your body clock it’s time to be awake.  As such, exposure to light shortly upon arising in the morning can cause you to feel more awake and alert, and bright light exposure late at night can cause insomnia.  Even relatively modest light can have a stimulatory effect.  It makes sense, then, that shielding your bedroom from bright light is important during the summer, when the sun often shines relatively late into the evening, carrying both light and heat into your room.

Here’s a couple of considerations to darken your room.

1.  Sleep in a room without windows.  If you can.  Basements are great for that, for example, and some of my patients simply migrate to a basement bedroom each summer to sleep better.

2.  Sleep in a room which has windows that don’t face westward.  The sun sets in the west.

3.  Cover your windows.  I recognize this seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many people sleep in bedrooms with bare windows.

4.  Cover your windows with something dark (preferably black) and thick, such as black curtains.  Venetian blinds generally don’t do a great job of shielding the room from light.

5.  Turn your bed away from your windows.

6.  Turn off all the lights and the television when you’re ready to go to sleep.  Again, I’m stating the obvious here, but many people sleep with lights and other electronics on.

7.  Turn around or turn off glowing electronics, like digital alarm clocks.  If you’re an insomniac, turning your nightstand clock around will have the added benefit of keeping you from the deadly habit of “clock-watching,” which I’ve written about in previous entries.  It would also be helpful to turn off the lights one night and simply look around the room, looking for electronic lights.  You might be surprised about how much glowing, blinking stuff coinhabits your sleeping space, from your DVR, stereo, laptop, cable box, or whatever.  Turn off or hide whatever light sources you can, even if they’re small.  Turn down brightness levels as well if possible.

8.  Reconsider your nightlight.  Some people have long slept with a nightlight without problems, but bed partners may be bothered by this.  Discuss this with your spouse or bed partner.  If a nightlight is absolutely necessary, consider getting one that can be dimmed.

9.  If necessary and if all else fails, sleep masks or even dark sunglasses can help.  Hopefully, however, you can keep your entire bedroom dark throughout the night.

Sleep well, everyone!  The third and final entry in this series:  how to keep your bedroom quiet during the summer.  Enjoy these months of warmth:  winter is coming.

Sleep Well This Summer, Part 1: Stay Cool

Hi all!  It’s getting powerful-warm out there now in most parts of the U.S., so today I’m starting a 3-part series on sleeping during the summer months.

People generally prefer sleeping in a dark, quiet, cool environment.  This can be a challenge in the summertime, when it’s sweltering at night, it’s light out late, and there’s always some loud party going on late near your home.

 

Today we’ll tackle the issue of the summer warmth.

Many of us recognize that it can be difficult to fall and stay asleep if it’s uncomfortably warm or hot in your bedroom.  The common-sense advice here is to do what you can to maintain a cool sleeping environment to the extent that you can, particularly during the first half of the night:  outside temperatures naturally continue to fall until just prior to dawn due to an increasing duration of absent direct sun exposure, and our bodies naturally cool (i.e., our core body temperatures gradually fall) the longer we sleep at night.  As such, it’s a good idea to concentrate on how comfortable you are with the room temperature at bedtime.

Some brief tips to sleep a little better in the summer:

1.  Use your air conditioner.  I understand the desire to save $ on your utility bills–I share that desire–but I suggest not skimping on the air conditioning (if you have it) if you’re miserable in bed night after night.

2.  Invest in a fan.  Large room fans can be inexpensive (particularly if purchased off-season), and the convective effect of the circulating air can make a big difference.

3.  Take a shower or bath prior to bedtime.  Using cool water may reduce your core body temperature.  For some, however, a warm shower or bath prior to bedtime makes your  bedroom temperature “feel” cooler by the time you get into bed.  Experiment to see what makes you most comfortable.

4.  Consider your bedsheets and pajamas.  This is very individually dependent, but you can obviously reduce the amount of body coverage in bed to cool things down.  The cloth materials you use can also make a difference:  you can be bothered by not only the heat, but also the degree to which you’re wet and sweaty in bed.  I suggest using materials that “breathe” and absorb or wick away moisture:  in general natural materials, like cotton, are considered better at this than synthetic.

5.  Sleep in the basement.  If you can’t do anything about the heat in your bedroom, migrating to a cool, dark underground basement may make all the difference during summer months.

6.  If you use CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) for obstructive sleep apnea, you can turn down your heated humidity and utilize as small a mask interface as possible.

Next up:  how to keep your bedroom dark.  This is more important than you may think.

Cheers all, and stay cool this summer!