‘Fall Back’ to Better Health: Habits That Can Disrupt Your Sleep

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November 5, 2018


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The focus on gaining or losing an hour of sleep in the spring and fall tends to overshadow the bigger issue of chronic sleep disorders, which is becoming increasingly a problem as electronic devices keep us up later and other poor health habits persist, according sleep experts.

“Daylight saving time” (DST) ended officially Sunday at 2 a.m. The “fall back” time of year means we gained an extra hour of sleep. The yearly time shift serves mainly as a reminder of bigger issues for those who suffer some degree of a sleep disorder. Disrupted sleep cycles — or just not getting enough sleep — can contribute to being overweight and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Every patient’s sleep disorder is unique and requires specialized attention. But there are a few factors that contribute to common disorders fueled by a lack of sleep, from insomnia to occasional sleep disruptions, says  Timothy Grant, M.D., the medical director of Baptist Sleep Center at Sunset.

Hectic work and family schedules during weekdays fuels the popular practice of “sleeping in” on weekends, or sleeping later than usual. But even that break in the routine, which may seem beneficial, may actually contribute to chronic sleep problems, says Dr. Grant, who is a neurologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“That wreaks havoc on your internal clock,” says Dr. Grant. “Even though you can’t go to sleep at exactly the same time, it’s best not to change it dramatically from the weekdays to the weekend.”

There are other somewhat surprising factors — including caffeine consumption early in the day, mid-day naps and exercising late in the day — that can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to insomnia or intermittent sleep disruptions, says Dr. Grant.

“A lot of things have caffeine and people don’t know it,” he says. “Like energy drinks that people consume during the day. And as you get older, sometimes caffeine can have an effect on you 10 hours later. So you can have a cup of coffee with your lunch, and it can keep you up later at night. Again, that depends on the patient.

Napping in the afternoon can backfire as well. “Naps aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you have insomnia, a nap can reset your clock so you get this second-wind phenomenon. and you feel great,” explains Dr. Grant. “But then you have trouble falling asleep at night. ”

As is generally accepted, regular exercise prolongs life and can help treat or prevent heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. But the time of exercise routines should be carefully planned.

“Exercise is great for every single age,” says Dr. Grant. “But you don’t want to exercise too close to the time you want to fall asleep. Because exercise has revved you up and it makes you feel like you can’t go to sleep. You want to exercise at least a couple of hours or longer before you want to fall asleep.”

Healthy Sleep Tips
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), taking the following steps can lead to a better night’s sleep and improve overall health:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Keep the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends if possible. This routine helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A quiet and calming activity, such as reading, right before bedtime is best achieved away from bright lights to help separate sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety. For this reason, computer screens of any size should be avoided just before going to sleep.
  • Disconnect. Turn off TVs and computers, and put down tablets and cell phones, two hours prior to going to bed.
  • Avoid mid-day naps, especially in the afternoon. So-called power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short naps can help.
  • Exercise daily. Moderately intense exercise is best, according to the American Heart Association, and light exercise is better than no activity, but refrain from exercising in the four hours before going to sleep. The first signal that the body is ready to go to sleep is body temperature. Exercise raises body temperature.
  • Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the best conditions for sound sleep. Your bedroom should be comfortably cool and free from any noise or light that can disturb your sleep.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. This may sound obvious, but it’s important. 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. Comfortable pillows are also important.

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