Every living creature needs to sleep. Healthy sleep habits can make a huge difference in your quality of life! Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good “sleep hygiene”.
Let’s face it — electronics are a part of life in the 21st century. Ninety percent of people in the U.S. admit to using a technological device during the hour before turning in, and children often use electronic media to help them relax at night. If you’re among these nighttime technology-users, you may not realize the extent to which this can make it harder to settle down to sleep. But it can. The truth is, using electronic devices before bedtime can be physiologically and psychologically stimulating in ways that can adversely affect your sleep.
Here’s what happens: Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock (a.k.a., your circadian rhythm), suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This is largely due to the short-wavelength, artificial blue light that’s emitted by these devices. The more electronic devices that a person uses in the evening, the harder it is to fall asleep or stay asleep. Besides increasing your alertness at a time when you should be getting sleepy, which in turn delays your bedtime, using these devices before turning in delays the onset of REM sleep, reduces the total amount of REM sleep, and compromises alertness the next morning. Over time, these effects can add up to a significant, chronic deficiency in sleep.
This is true for kids and adults alike. It’s important to have a digital curfew for the entire family, a time at which you and your kids turn off all electronic devices for the night. Try setting the curfew at two hours before bed, one hour before bed, or even 30 minutes before bed — the earlier in the evening, the better, but whatever feels realistic. TV and computers should be off, out of the bedroom.
Sleep is especially important for children because it directly impacts growth, learning, mood, creativity, and weight control. (Children aged 5-12 need about 10-11 hours of sleep!) Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, abnormal sleepiness during the day, behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and cognitive problems that impact on their ability to learn in school.
Some other “sleep hygiene” tips to keep in mind are:
-Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends.
-Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from awake time.
-If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
-Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity.
-Evaluate the bedroom. Your bedroom should be cool — between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
-Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy — about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses.
-Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
-Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
-Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading a paper book.
-If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. For more information, visit www.sleepfoundation.org.
Juli Simpson, RN, BSN, LSN, is the Maternal & Child Health, Program Director, at the Meigs County Health Department.