Posted tagged ‘sleep’

Light Impacts Sleep

November 7, 2014

Now that the nights are longer, it’s time to think about the impact light has on our sleep. And oh, does it have impact! This last month it’s been a pleasure to read two books on light, and human’s historical experience of night – The End of Night by Paul Bogard, and At Day’s Close Night in Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch. Let’s dive into some of the details, and then how you can design light exposure to help your sleep.

The negative effect of light at night
Roger Ekirch talks about the human experience of night over the centuries. Streets until the 1600s had only the light spilling from homes to light them. To be out at night was dangerous, and many towns would close their doors at night and enforce a curfew. For safety, fires and candles would be put out before bed. Their use would be conserved to save money, so some poor people would go to bed soon after dark.

Compare that history to the “sky glow” that many of us are now living in, where we can hardly see the stars at night. In The End of Night author Paul Bogard outlines what is lost when we no longer have dark nights. Not only is human physiology influenced, but migrations of birds and the life-cycle of trees is altered.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland of the brain. Melatonin is nicknamed “the hormone of darkness,” and helps us feel sleepy at bedtime. Unfortunately melatonin is very sensitive to light, particularly blue light, which suppresses it’s release. And what are 90% of us exposed to during the evening? The blue light of electronics which suppresses melatonin!

The positive effect of light during the dayA recent study compared the sleep of office workers who get natural sunlight to those who work on the interior of the building and don’t. Those who got more light during the work day had better sleep quality, slept longer, and had more physical activity. They also reported a higher quality of life – something we’d all like!

Using light exposure to improve sleep
The basic principle is to get historical light levels during both day and night. In other words, bright full-spectrum light it the morning and during the day, then full darkness at night. How can you do that? Here are some ideas:
– in the morning get some bright outdoor light as soon as possible. Maybe go stand on the porch and look out while having your morning tea.
– continue to get bright light in bursts throughout the day
– in the evening, have lights low, and use the yellow-red spectrum if possible (rather than blue or full-spectrum lights). Avoid electronics for the hour before bed.
– if you are up in the middle of the night, again have low lighting. Particularly troublesome in many homes are the bright bathroom lights, instead put a small night-light in the bathroom to use if need be.
– watch out for your neighbors too by turning off outside lights that aren’t truly needed, and if you need outdoor lights, aim them downward so you are not committing ‘light trespass.’ (Interestingly, Bogard cites studies showing that increased lighting does not decrease crime, that criminals like to work in a well-lit area just like everyone else!)

Be purposeful about making all of these lifestyle changes at the same time. Then notice after a week or two how your sleep has changed!

An Ergonomic Bed

October 30, 2012

Regularly there are new sleep products on the market. Just last week I saw one that really impressed me, so much so that I’d like to share. Rest assured, I have no affiliation with this company, financial or otherwise.

It is a new bed which was designed ergonomically so the body can be in a neutral side-lying position during sleep. There is a cut-away so that the lower arm is supported underneath the body, while the head and shoulders are supported above. In this position the spine is not twisted, as it commonly is when side-lying. The support system allows the shoulders to be in a neutral position also, instead of rolled inwards as commonly happens.

The mattress is wedge-shaped so that the head is elevated. There’s been some work showing that when the body is supine, edema can re-distribute and cause narrowing of the airway. That airway narrowing increases the risk of apnea.

The bed is made of foam, and when I first heard that my alarm bells went off. However, I’ve learned that they only use pure foam that has not been treated with the harmful chemicals found in some foam. There were no fumes evident in the store, either when first walking in or after spending time looking at the bed.

So many people have pain conditions which interrupt their sleep, and the improvements to their sleep are limited until the pain can be eliminated. This bed gives me hope for some of those pain patients

In the next weeks someone will be trying it out for me, and I post an update here after the test. If you’d like more information, you can find it on the inventors’ site http://www.squiresleep.com/

Curing Insomnia is Like Climbing a Mountain

June 20, 2012

Being unable to sleep can be very distressing, especially when it’s an acute episode. One analogy that works when I think about treating insomnia is that Curing Insomnia is Like Climbing a Mountain.

Think about going for a hike up a mountain to the scenic view from the peak. You look at the paths that lead to the top, and choose the one that’s best for you. Your choice is based on where you came from, your preferences (a long gradual climb, or a short steep one), and your other abilities or conditions. Once you choose your path you stick with it, knowing that if you switch to another path, that horizontal movement is not getting you any closer to the goal.

It’s helpful to think of curing insomnia in a similar way, that you look at the treatment options available to you, and choose the one that’s the best fit. Once you’ve selected the treatment you want, stick with it long enough for it to be effective. Sometimes when people are in an acute episode of insomnia it is tempting to try different treatments, each for a short time. What’s more effective is to give a reasonable trial of a treatment approach (several weeks or a month at least), before switching paths. Knowing that insomnia is cured one night at a time, bit by bit, just like climbing a mountain can help keep you calm and focused on the end goal.

Here’s to the view from the top, and the peaceful sleep at the end of the path!

Does a Hot Bath Help Sleep?

May 24, 2012

Many people ask me “Does a warm bath help sleep, or is that just a myth?” The research shows . . .

Yes, it seems to help somewhat. Medical research has investigated the impact of both baths and foot baths on sleep. One study in older people with sleep disturbance found that a 40 minute footbath at 41C decreased wakefulness in the second nonREM sleep period. Women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer have also found increased sleep quality with a warm footbath. Another study done in elderly insomniacs found that a full-body bath (immersed to the mid-chest) for 30 minutes at 40-41C did increase deep sleep, and caused people to experience a good night sleep. .

How does a warm bath improve sleep? Human body temperature is not constant, but varies with a consistent circadian rhythm.  There is a slight dip in body temperature at approximately 1pm, and then a more significant drop in the evening hours.  We get that sleepy feeling as our body temperature drops. The bath effectively raises our body temperature, and the subsequent drop helps sleep. The bath should be about 60-90 minutes before bedtime.

Of all the means you can use to improve your sleep, this one seems one of the most simple, with the least possible negative side effects. This is a good therapy to try first before using other, more invasive medicine.

Sleep Interruptions – Not so Trivial!

April 25, 2012

Many people talk to me about their difficulties sleeping, either difficulty falling asleep initially, or returning to sleep in the middle of the night, or in some cases waking up before they want to start the day.

One question that can be very helpful in this situation is “what woke you?” or “what prevented you from falling asleep?”  Surprisingly often, there is a clear environmental disturbance that is interrupting sleep.

Here are some of the external sleep interruptions I’ve heard of over the years:
– a snoring, or moving, bedpartner who may have a sleep disorder of their own
– bedpartner who gets into bed later, or who gets up earlier, thus waking up the person experiencing insomnia
– dog’s collar jingling
– cat asking for attention by scratching on the bedroom door
– outdoor lights that turn off and on with movement (hate those!)
– children in the bed, snuggled right up against the patient who then is uncomfortable
– an appliance or toy that beeps
– the cell phone, often a problem when it is used as an alarm clock
. . . and the list could easily go on.

When you are working to improve your sleep, you first want to eliminate as many of these interruptions as possible. I recently was working with a woman struggling to sleep well, waking 2-4 times each night. When asked “what wakes you in the night” she identified that sometimes her husband’s snoring woke her. We dialed down into that a little more, and she estimated that his loud snoring is responsible for half of her wakings, and realized looking back on it that when he’s away she does sleep better. Another person, a mother, said that she’s often squished between her children during sleep, and has no sleep problem if she has the bed to herself.

When you are working to improve your sleep, a helpful first step is to see if any external factor is interrupting or preventing you from sleep. Systematically resolve those interruptions, and then re-assess. You may find that those interruptions you were tolerating are not so trivial!

Start School Later – Contact your Senators!

April 20, 2012

Thanks to Terra Snider, Kari Oakes, and Mary King for delivering the Start School Later petition to our Washington State Senators Murry and Cantwell in person on Weds, April 18. This team is committing many hours to speak with congress people from around the country on this important issue. Now is the time for each of us to reach out and voice our support of this initiative with our state congress people. Please do so today!

Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-2621
Fax: 202-224-0238
Toll Free: 866-481-9186
Email: Web Form: http://www.murray.senate.gov/email/index.cfm

Senator Maria Cantwell
311 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-3441
Fax: 202-228-514
Toll Free: 888-648-7328
Email: HTTP://Cantwell.senate.gov

For those of you reading this in other states, you can learn more about this initiative at http://www.startschoollater.net. There is a tool to find the congress people for your zip code here: http://independenceave.org/. Please contact them now, as the Start School Later team is systematically contacting all the Congress and House of Representatives. Together we can make this important improvement for thousands of teens!

Sleepy Transportation Workers – Scary!

March 15, 2012

Last week was National Sleep Awareness Week, and the time each year that the annual Sleep in America Poll is unveiled. This year it is all about sleep health in the transportation industry. This data raises concerns about public safety, and the health of the transportation workers. Here’s what pilots, train operators, and professional drivers of all types reported about their sleep.

Sleepiness and Safety
When asked about sleepiness, 1 in 4 pilots and train operators said that sleepiness has impacted their job performance once a week. Even more concerning is the number of professionals who say that sleepiness caused safety issues: 20% of pilots, 18% of train operators, and 14% of truck drivers.

These safety issues persist during transportation employees personal time: 6% were in an auto accident due to sleepiness compared to 1% of those who work in other industries.

The Sleep Schedule
Almost half of transportation workers are dis-satisfied with their sleep. Many say their work schedule does not allow enough time for sleep (44% train operators, 37% pilots). This compares to 27% of non-transportation workers.

Transportation professionals tend to work longer shifts, with less time off between shifts. They also tend to have longer commute times, and irregular shiftwork type schedules.

Adequate Sleep for Transportation Professionals
It’s been a pleasure in my office to help transportation professionals get healthy, natural sleep. This is primarily about strategically using our body’s sleep systems to promote alertness during work hours and sleep during sleep times.

First, create a window of time for sleep that can be as consistent as possible. Also put into place a routine of meal times, exercise, activity – all those things that signal time to the body. Second, reduce the commute as much as possible. Third, use precisely timed melatonin and light therapy to promote sleep at sleep times and increase alertness during the work day. This is a very individualized approach which takes into account the irregular work schedule, commute time, sleep environment, and lifestyle.

Summary

“The margin of error in these professions is extremely small. Transportation professionals need to manage sleep to perform at their best,” said David Cloud, leader of the National Sleep Foundation.  His comment really sums this up, that sleep health is so important for transportation professionals and the safety of the public they serve.

 You can read the report here: http://www.sleepfoundation.org//article/press-release/sleepy-pilots-train-operators-and-drivers


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