Ah, sleep……. As someone who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, this topic is near and dear to my heart, so I am happy to share a few simple “timing” tips I learned about how to get a good night’s sleep with you.
We all have an approximately 24-hour internal clock known as a circadian rhythm that, among other things, helps determine when we feel sleepy and when we feel awake. Light and darkness regulate this rhythm, triggering the release of a hormone called melatonin that serves as a cue for sleep.
“Timing is everything” with blue light! “Light is a stimulant,” says Alcibiades Rodriguez, M.D., the medical director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center-Sleep Center at New York University. When blue-sensitive receptors in our eyes are first exposed to light in the morning, that sends a signal to the pineal gland of our brain that shuts off the production of melatonin.
“Once you get exposed to that first light in the morning, you are supposed to fall asleep” 16 to 18 hours later, Rodriguez says. As darkness falls with night, our brains start to produce melatonin again, theoretically a couple of hours before we fall asleep.
My sleep therapist encouraged me to expose my eyes to as much sunlight during the day, especially in the early morning, which can have a protective effect. Higher [daytime] light levels help you sleep better. It also helps you be less sensitive to that evening light. People who spend more time outside and get more daytime light exposure have better sleep, especially if they get that light early in the day.
Establish a sleep ritual
A bath, a light snack, and a few minutes of mediation or reading to help you relax. If you read on a device like a computer or kindle, those screens emit the blue light that can inhibit sleep. I bought amber glasses to wear when I read, which seemed to help. In 2016 Consumer Reports testing also showed that Uvex Skyper safety eyewear was the most effective at cutting out blue light.
Consistent bedtime and wake up times are imperative
Go to bed at about the same time each night and get up at about the same time in the mornings. This helps coordinate your circadian rhythms. These times might be different than when you were younger, so experiment with what works best for you these days. Because I was so worried about not getting enough sleep, I was trying to go to bed too early, so the sleep specialist that I saw told me to stay up later each night, and to wake up at the same time, so my body started to realize that there was only going to be a limited time that I could actually sleep. It worked!
Stay tuned for lots more tried & true Sweet Dreams tips in future blogs!
Focus on Healthy Aging
Volume 24 Number 3