Managing Sleep: Part I
April 23, 2020
Dr. Charles Schmittdiel, PhD
Good sleep promotes positive emotional and physiological outcomes. Most Americans, and probably a number of us, are chronically sleep deprived, due to schedule and lifestyle demands as well as other behavioral choices. Unfortunately, short sleep has been associated with a number of long-term adverse cardiometabolic outcomes. Good, consistent sleep promotes both physical and mental health and helps to recharge the immune system. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently recommended that all adults obtain at least seven hours of sleep per night.
So, how do I manage sleep?
The human brain has an internal biologic clock which regulates our sleep/wake cycle. Research has shown that getting up at approximately the same time and getting exposure to post-dawn morning sunlight helps keep our biologic clock calibrated. After a while, getting up around the same time tends to promote feeling sleepy around the same time each night. Try to make your weekday and weekend schedules as consistent as possible. Erratic sleep schedules promote poorer sleep.
Scale down device use
Limit screen time prior to bedtime; if you use electronic devices in the evening after dusk, utilize the Night Mode on your device’s settings to reduce the amount of blue light spectrum exposure (which is the primary spectrum component from LED lights) and reduce brightness. Too much exposure to bright light after dusk promotes delaying and/or stopping melatonin production, which normally starts in response to dimming light after dusk. The role of melatonin in sleep is to send a continuous feedback signal to the brain that it is dark and time for sleep.
Condition yourself to relax
Make sure you have an adequate wind down before bedtime to help your mind and body relax and prepare for sleep. Avoid engaging in activities that are excessively stimulating, either from a negative or positive standpoint.
Alcohol doesn’t help
Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. While it may promote falling asleep, when it withdraws from the body it often promotes middle-of-the-night awakenings.
Nor does caffeine
Caffeine inhibits adenosine, a brain chemical that promotes biologic sleep drive. The average half-life of caffeine in healthy individuals is about five hours, but clearance can take longer than that.
Moderate regular exercise has been associated with overall better sleep, but you cannot exercise yourself to sleep. Physical activity is one, but not the primary, factor that promotes biological sleep drive. Exercising too close to bedtime increases core body temperature, whereas sleep induction is associated with declining core body temperatures at night.
Napping may keep you awake
Avoid extended daytime naps as this diminishes night time sleep drive. Research suggests that if needed, a brief ” power nap” (15-20 minutes) at midday is less likely to interfere with sleep biology.