by Sophia Pollalis ATC, CSCS

Did you know that many sleep problems can be influenced by changing habits? As the world we
live in became more industrialized, there were suddenly more hours in a day to be productive. It
was possible to work later in the evening and earlier in the morning, even overnight. We also
had more hours in a day to be entertained. Fast forward to the technological advancements of
modern times and we have 24/7 access to whatever you could need at the tips of your fingers.
While the improvement in productivity and “life” as we know it has been drastic and we couldn’t
imagine going to bed because the sun disappeared, we cannot continue to ignore the health
deficits that have come about because our natural sleeping process has been disturbed.

Here are 4 simple and FREE options that you could try tonight to improve your sleep health.

Habit change can be complex and takes time to solidify into new habits. I am personally working on
incorporating this list into my nightly routine. Some nights are more successful than others.
Make your changes as you can handle them, and if you’re going through a difficult time or major
transition (like a new baby) be gentle with yourself and take care of your priorities first and
foremost.

  1. Lower lights and put down the phone


  1. Your body’s natural wake drive is influenced by light. It helps wake us up and keep us awake.
    This is just as true in the morning as it is at night. Our ancestors were limited in activity by the
    sun going down; now, we just turn on the lights and keep going. Light inhibits our body’s natural
    production of melatonin. Melatonin levels in the brain start rising about 2 hours before bedtime
    and help to put us in a state of quiet restfulness. The later we expose our eyes to bright lights
    like cell phones and overhead lights, the later melatonin production starts, and the more sleep is
    delayed. Studies have also found that the quality of sleep is also diminished without the proper
    levels of melatonin because it allows us to go through all the stages of sleep for the full amount
    of time.
    What to do:
    · Set up your nightly routine so you get at least 30 minutes with no screens before sleep.
    · After dark, turn on blue light filters on your phone, computer, and tablet
    · Dim lights, decrease number of lights, or switch out blue hued bulbs for yellow
    · Use blackout curtains to keep your room dark until you need to get up

  1. Lower the temperature of your room

  1. Before we had reliable sources of heat to warm our homes, nights would be very cold. The
    temperature of your room affects your core body temperature, and we want it to drop by 2-3
    degrees while we sleep. The part of your brain that senses your body temperature is right next
    to the area that controls your internal clock. At night when your temperature naturally lowers,
    they communicate and the part that controls your clock adds that information to the lack of light.
    Lower temperature and less light both stimulate the release of melatonin. Our bodies are not
    passive in lowering temperature; it uses the surface of our skin to reduce core body
    temperature, just like when we sweat. Our face, feet, and hands are most efficient at this. When
    you get really warm at night, what’s the first thing you do? Poke a foot out or bring your hands
    above the covers. This allows us to keep the core temperature lower, helping us fall and stay
    asleep. 65°F is about ideal given standard bedding and clothing. If this is a drastic drop from
    your current holding temperature at night, adjust 3-5 degrees at a time. It can get too cold,
    though. Unless you have clothing and/or bedding to compensate, 55°F can be harmful rather
    than helpful to sleep.
    What to do:
    · About 30 minutes before sleep, decrease the temperature of your sleeping area
    · Splash some water on you face using your hands to cool your face
    · Use layers of bedding so you can adjust nightly if needed.

  1. Avoid coffee late in the day
  1. Caffeine is the most used psychoactive stimulant in the world. It has a half life of five to seven
    hours. That’s right, the coffee that has 80 mg of caffeine you had at 8 am is still circulating 40
    mg of caffeine circulating in your system around 2 pm. Then you have another cup to beat the
    afternoon slump so when you get home and finish dinner at 7 pm, there’s still 60 mg floating
    around, preventing sleep hormones from binding to receptors and giving us a desire to sleep.
    So you stay up later, which makes you more tired in the morning because you didn’t meet your
    sleep needs so you have another coffee. Rinse and repeat. While caffeine can definitely reduce
    our sleep drive or we just like the taste, if timed incorrectly it can impede our sleep health.
    What to do:

· Avoid caffeine within 10 hours of sleep
· Create good health hygiene to prevent the feeling of needing caffeine
· Remember, de-caffeinated is not the same as non-caffeinated.

  1. Skip the nightcap

  1. While alcohol is a sedative, it does not enhance your sleep experience. Yes, it can make you
    sleepy. But alcohol sedates your brain and its necessary processes, not just you being awake.
    The brainwaves observed under the influence of alcohol are more similar to being under light
    anesthesia, not of getting adequate sleep. In fact, it can keep you from the stage of sleep called
    REM (rapid eye movement) when you dream and your brain processes things. Alcohol also
    prevents you from staying asleep, sprinkling the night with bouts of wakefulness that you don’t
    remember. Like caffeine, alcohol can take several hours to be removed from your system, so it’s
    best to avoid it late at night.
  2. What to do:
    · Use good sleep hygiene as a tool to fall asleep, not alcohol
    · Avoid a regular schedule of alcohol in the late afternoon and early evening
    · The occasional drink is ok; understand that alcohol will affect sleep.

Citation:


Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner, an
Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
Littlehales, Nick. Sleep. Penguin, 2017.