Summer is here and many adults, just like kids, take advantage of all the season has to offer by short-changing their sleep schedule. Vacations and travel, enjoying late nights with the kids, and just trying to make the most of the extra daylight hours can really play havoc on the body and a few extra cups of coffee will not help.
All those nights of disrupted or less-than-adequate sleep can add up, potentially leading to a sleep disorder or other serious health problems. The good news is simple lifestyle choices can provide plenty of time to enjoy all the day has to offer and a quality night’s rest.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep is a vital process your body requires to rest and refresh each night. Although experts still haven’t determined the exact biological purpose of sleep, we know it is essential to our health and well-being. While you are asleep, your body can rebuild your muscles, process emotions, create memories, and perform many other critical functions.
Sleep involves two critical regulatory functions of the body – circadian rhythm and homeostasis. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes.
Your circadian rhythms and homeostasis are responsible for regulating your sleep patterns — when you fall asleep and when you wake up. Circadian rhythms cause you to feel tired at the end of the day and help you wake up in the morning without an alarm. Homeostasis reminds your body of the need for sleep by producing a homeostatic sleep drive at regular intervals. The longer you stay awake, the stronger your homeostatic sleep drive becomes.
These processes are part of the reason you sleep more deeply if you have been sleep-deprived for a long time.
Consistently falling short on sleep has negative consequences for your health. With just a few days of lost sleep, you have trouble concentrating, your blood pressure increases, and your immune system starts to weaken.
Continued sleeplessness contributes to major health problems down the road. That’s because there’s a link between getting enough sleep and having obesity, depression, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Recharging Your Sleep Habits
There’s no quick answer on how long it takes to erase a sleep deficit. One good night’s sleep can’t make up lost sleep over several nights. But it can get you on your way to erasing the negative effects of accumulated sleep loss.
If you struggle to fall asleep or get a good night’s sleep, consider changing your lifestyle or daily habits to improve sleep quality and duration. Here are a few tips to get a better night’s sleep:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule: When you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, you reinforce and strengthen your circadian rhythm and body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine: You may choose to listen to relaxing music, read a book or take a bath. If you experience a lot of stress during the day, take time at night to resolve your concerns and put your stress aside.
- Create a comfortable environment for sleep: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep can sometimes result from a noisy, bright, or uncomfortable sleep environment. Create a bedroom environment that is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature.
- Reduce caffeine, alcohol and nicotine consumption: Consuming caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can impact your sleep quality and duration. Although alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly, it often leads to restless sleep and may cause you to wake up several times throughout the night. Because their stimulating effects can take several hours to wear off, caffeine and nicotine can disrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
- Put electronics away before bed: Blue light exposure before bedtime can negatively impact your ability to fall asleep. Avoid watching television or using your cell phone, tablet, or computer close to bedtime.
- Exercise more: Being more active during the day can help prepare you for a good night’s sleep. Also, it is recommended that you do not exercise right before bed. Your body temperature and heart rate raise as a result of exercise and these conditions are not conducive to sleep.
Many people assume a good night’s sleep means getting enough hours of sleep each night. However, getting a good night’s sleep depends on both the duration and the quality of your sleep. After a night of quality sleep, your body wakes up naturally at a regular time, and you should feel well-rested.
A good night’s sleep will leave you feeling wide awake in the morning, and you will not feel sleepy during the day. Understanding a good night’s sleep is a crucial component of getting better rest and improving your overall health.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep or if you feel overly tired throughout the day, talk to your primary care provider. Your sleep may be affected by something more than a lifestyle choice and your provider may recommend a sleep study or consultation with a sleep specialist.
Kevin Kist, D.O., is with UPMC Sleep Medicine and sees patients at UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence Campus, 1100 Grampian Blvd., Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kist, call 570-326-8053. For more information about UPMC Sleep Medicine services, go to UPMC.com/NorthCentralPa.