If you are anything like all the other folks in modern day society, you probably crawl into bed at the end of your day and unwind while watching some television, streaming a movie on your laptop, checking emails or playing games on your tablet, or catching up on your social media apps on your cell phone. Unfortunately, while it seems peaceful enough, this bedtime routine may be doing more harm than good for your quality of sleep. You see, those screens emit a strong light that cranks up your brain’s “awake” signals and screws up your Circadian rhythm which is your body’s internal clock. Even on dim settings, the light from electronic devices can send powerful signals to your brain. This makes it hard to either fall asleep or stay asleep and can compromise the ideal pattern of sleep stages needed to have healthy, restful and restorative sleep. There is an excellent movie called Screenagers (2016) by Dr. Delaney Rushton which is an award-winning documentary that addresses the effect of technology on children and their developing brains. (Note- adults are not immune and are also at risk). While the film doesn’t just discuss the effect of tech on our sleep, it does delve into the impact of technology on mental health. It’s important to remember that altered or disrupted sleep from tech can lead to issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, GI problems, hypertension, diabetes, and many other serious ailments. Check it out on this preview: https://youtu.be/LQx2X0BXgZg
Now that we are aware of the common disruptors, let’s see what a healthy bedtime routine looks like. The key is routine! It’s good to go to sleep and get up at approximately the same times daily while planning on 7-9 hours of sleep depending on your age. Turning off electronics at least 1-2 hours prior to bedtime is ideal. It allows your body to slow down and prepare for sleep. Your sleep environment is important, too! Having a cool, comfortable, dark and quiet bedroom is ideal. Ambient light can still set-off your optic sensors that trigger “awake” signals in your brain… even with your eyelids closed! So look around your room… are there night lights, LED lights from clocks and electronics, a light in the hall way, the neighbor’s lamp post? Finding ways to minimize these lights, as dim and benign as they may seem, will help your sleep signals prevail. Temperature is really important, too! Did you know that you are more likely to have a restless night if your room is too warm? Try turning down the thermostat to between 60-67 degrees F. This helps your body settle peacefully into sleep mode. It’s also important to avoid stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine before bedtime. Even though a few glasses of wine in the evening may make you feel sleepy, that effect is generally short and can disrupt your restorative sleep cycles. Avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime is also helpful in getting good sleep.
Tonight, when you crawl into bed, reach for a book, reflect on your day, or just close your eyes and drift off to a nice, restorative sleep. Good night and sweet dreams!
Tune in next time to learn about sleep-disordered breathing and how it affects your health.
By Dr. D’Aprile