Here in the Pacific Northwest spring/summer is a popular time for activities and visitors. By August we have long days of sunlight–– some evenings the light lingers well past 10 p.m. and first light appears as early as 5:00 a.m. in some areas! Somedays it feels like the light just doesn’t end. Wonderful for enjoying the outdoors but this can wreak havoc on sleep patterns so here are a few suggestions that might help!
1. Make sleep a priority
Simply deciding that getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night is going to be one of your health priorities can go a long way. Resist putting work or household chores – or even a good book – ahead of sleep.
2. Develop a sleep routine
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends. Studies suggest that going to sleep at 10 pm and waking up at 6 am works the best with our body’s natural rhythms. Developing a ritual that you follow each night before going to sleep (e.g. journaling, reading, paced breathing, and drinking chamomile tea) can also help prepare your body for rest.
3. Make the bed a “sleep only” space
Sometimes it is easy to convert your bed into an all-purpose area – especially if you live in a small apartment. Eating in bed, watching TV in bed, or even working in bed can make it more difficult for you to sleep at night.
4. Avoid eating and exercise within three hours of going to sleep
This can be hard for night owls, but it is important to remember that eating and exercise both get your body energized, not ready for a good night’s sleep. Although regular exercise can make it easier for you to sleep eventually, you should make sure to leave your body plenty of time to wind down afterwards.
5. Turn off the lights (and devices)
Make sure that the area where you sleep is dark and quiet (although if you live in a noisy neighborhood, a white noise machine can be helpful). The hormone melatonin is produced in total darkness, and the longer you stay in the dark, the more melatonin the pineal gland produces. Melatonin regulates our sleep and wake cycles, destroys free radicals, suppresses the development of breast cancer, increases the immune system’s killer lymphocytes and more. Some people use black-out shades or eye masks to block out light when they sleep and/or turn off or move anything out of the room that emits even dim light in their bedroom (e.g. LED lights in TVs, clocks or night lights). If you need a night light, a dim red light is the best choice. Additionally, the blue wavelength light emitted from TVs, computer screens and cell phones suppresses melatonin production more than other wavelengths, so it is wise to avoid exposure to them 2-3 hours before bedtime. That means no more falling asleep in front of the TV!
However, exposing your eyes to lots of bright natural light during the day can help you sleep better at night.
6. Listen to your body – and get rid of the alarm clock!
After starting to get into a sleep routine, see if your body can awaken on time naturally, without the help of an alarm clock. (Maybe try this out on the weekend first, though!) Listening to your body is the best measure of whether you’re getting sufficient rest.