Health & Wellness

Sleepless Summers: How to Ensure Quality Sleep When Days Grow Long

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We’ve all read about the importance of getting enough nightly sleep to maintain overall well-being and ensure a healthy family, right? But, getting enough quality sleep time can be tricky as changing sleeping conditions can negatively impact your sleeping pattern over time.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 7-8 hours of nightly sleep for adults, 9-10 hours for teens, at least 10 hours for school age children, and 11-12 hours of sleep for pre-school age children.

A constant influence on our sleeping condition occurs annually as the seasons change and hours of daylight shrink and grow. Prior to the 19th century, before the advent and widespread use of oil lamps and then electric lighting, our sleep patterns were quite different.

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In fact, it was commonplace at one time to sleep twice a night for approximately four hours with a shorter period of awake time between sleep periods. Historian and Virginia Tech professor, A. Roger Ekirch, writes in his book “At Day’s Close: Night In Times Past” that people used to fall asleep not long after dark for what was termed “first sleep” and often awoke around midnight for a few hours before going back to sleep for another short period conveniently termed “second sleep.” Professor Ekirch relies on hundreds of contemporary documents to suggest segmented sleep was once commonplace and had long been the natural pattern of slumber before the modern age.

However, while switching to a segmented sleeping pattern may work for some, it just doesn’t seem practical for most of us. Let’s face it, convincing your eight year old it’s time to go to bed as the longer summer daylight beckons like a circus clown holding cotton candy can be, well, let’s just say… challenging. I dare not imagine such bedtime rituals playing out a second time every night.

And, while hours of daylight increase during the summer months, the variance is greater the further you are from the equator. For example, while Phoenix and Atlanta experience approximately four and a half hours more daylight in June than in December, Boston and Seattle experience almost seven more hours of daylight in June each year. These extended daylight hours can negatively impact our sleeping patterns by tricking our bodies into staying up later, since we may postpone bedtime to take advantage of the nicer weather and outdoor activities, or we may just find it harder to sleep when its still daylight and warmer outside.

If you find yourself unable to sleep due to longer summer days, you may want to try one or more of the following tips to help get the necessary rest your body needs to remain healthy.

1. Create a Sanctuary: Avoid having a multi-purpose bedroom.

Transforming your bedroom into an environment designed specifically for sleeping is important. Try to keep your sleep sanctuary from hosting other activities. Avoid making it an entertainment center, home gym, or extra office space. Instead, try to keep your bedroom dark and quiet. If your bedroom is not dark enough, try a comfortable sleep mask or placing heavier darker curtains over your bedroom windows.

2. Keep it Cool: Avoiding summertime heat.

Try showering before bed and leaving your hair wet. Freeze a damp washcloth to be used as a cool compress for your neck and head before bedtime. Some people find a fan in the bedroom helps. But, if you use a fan in your bedroom, be sure to keep the bedroom door slightly open to improve airflow. Light bedclothes and light pajamas, or no pajamas, are certainly an important option too. And, you can play soothing music – even on a hot night it can be relaxing.

3. Exercise at the right time: Earlier rather than later.

A sunny summer day is perfect for an outdoor workout; and, exercising during the day supports a healthy night of sleep. But, it’s important to remember that if you don’t give yourself enough time to cool down after exercising (at least three hours), you’ll end up stimulating your body when you seek its surrender to sleep.

4. Eat Right: The right foods at the right times.

Avoid eating a heavy meal within four hours of bedtime. Avoid eating or drinking anything that contains caffeine after noon. You can try eating a small snack, but aim to make it carbohydrate rich and avoid eating spicy foods or pouring yourself a nightcap.

5. Disconnect the Tech: Turn off electronic gadgets.

We’ve become almost permanently attached to our tech devices these days. But, the blue spectrum light emitted by our smart-phones, iPads, laptops, and television sends a signal to our brains that we’re not ready for sleep. The release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, is thereby inhibited, which can negatively impact your sleep quality and quantity. So, try turning off tech devices at least thirty minutes before bedtime.

6. Create a Sleep Schedule: Try to have a consistent bedtime and wake time.

Having a consistent sleep routine could help your body recognize when its time to rest. But, remember, if you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, it’s important that you seek diagnosis and treatment from your physician or a sleep specialist.

Along with the tips above, you can find help sleeping when visiting your doctor. Don’t have time to schedule an appointment? That’s no problem when you rely on the convenience of MeMD’s telehealth solution for your care!

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