Renew your sleep habits this Spring

reset buttonIn the winter, we commonly make resolutions to start out the New Year that are related to self improvement. This is followed in some cases at midwinter by sacrifices defined by religious practices, such as Lent, in which we forgo something normally considered an extravagance.

For those who sacrifice something in midwinter because of faith, the path to Easter and Passover is already halfway over.

But there are also those who do not give up something for spiritual reasons, but for more personal reasons (like giving up sugar to reset their “sweet tooth”) at this time of year.

Fasting for whatever reason is also a chosen behavior that becomes a part of one’s personal practice that takes shape at this time of year.

Often these forms of personal “reset” revolve around choices we make regarding diet and exercise.

How often do they include a chance to renew one’s best sleep habits and sacrifice poor behaviors linked to poor sleep? 

Now’s the time to reset your sleep

Now might be a good time to stay tuned to the practice of rebirth and renewal by dusting off some sleep habits you might have fallen out of in order to reclaim a healthier night’s rest. A healthy diet and regular exercise are two of the three pillars of health, after all… with sleep being the equally important third part of that foundation.

By the Light of His Smartphone
“By the Light of His Smartphone” by J Stimp (2016) (CC BY 2.0)

What should we sacrifice for better sleep?

Electronic devices at bedtime

There are multiple reasons why we should shut our laptops, smartphones, and tablets down an hour before bed.

First, the blue light they emit signals to the pineal gland in the brain to stop producing natural melatonin, which is a sleep-supporting hormone. Without adequate melatonin in the bloodstream, we will struggle to fall asleep.

Second, the content of the media we consume from handheld devices is typically stimulating. Movies, television programs, livestreamed events, games, email, and social media tend to energize us when we should be thinking about powering down.

Finally, though it pertains less to sleep, the same blue light that delays sleep onset is also very damaging to the eyes and should be kept to a minimum, especially in darker rooms where there is little adjacent lighting.

Midnight snacks

"Midnight Snack" by Charlyne (2012) (CC BY 2.0)
“Midnight Snack” by Charlyne (2012) (CC BY 2.0)

We’ve all done it… crept down to the kitchen to have another wedge of cake or slice of pizza. We might have trouble falling asleep and, out of boredom, we have a snack to fill up the space, hoping it might make us sleepy. This isn’t good for sleep for a couple of reasons.

The digestive system, later into the evening, has kicked into a different circadian rhythm and is not prepared to handle more calories, especially if they are high in fat and sugar, so you may experience indigestion or bloating.

Or you might snack on something that ends up giving you gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), better known as reflux or heartburn, and that can truly keep you up all night. GERD also has a relationship to obstructive sleep apnea that should be considered for those who are heavy snorers because it could indicate an underlying sleep breathing disorder that needs treatment.

Learn more about real-world problems and solutions related to reflux at our Sleeptember® patient-driven forum.

If you need a snack later because you are actually hungry, keep it small, mild, and easy to digest, such as a bowl of cereal, a cup of yogurt, a banana, warm milk with honey, or these other sleep-promoting foods.

Evening nightcaps

Getting Out
“Getting out” by Mere Being (2007) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cocktails at bedtime have been a traditional strategy for many people who need a little help falling asleep. Unfortunately, this widely adopted practice does not assist sleep like we once thought.

Using alcohol to help you fall asleep is the same thing as self-medicating for sleep deprivation. It doesn’t treat root cause and can only make your condition worse.

Though alcohol right before bed may help you fall asleep, it will also cause you to awaken later in the night after the alcohol has worn off. When this happens, your body undergoes a withdrawal response which include the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream which can disrupt your sleep enough to wake you up entirely.

In addition, you may need to void your bladder as alcohol has a diuretic effect on the body. And alcohol at bedtime can also lead to GERD.

Alcohol is known to interrupt normal sleep architecture in general, and if you have a sleep-breathing disorder like sleep apnea, it only makes your condition worse. It’s better to find a proactive set of sleep habits to help yourself fall asleep than to rely on alcohol.

Smoking or vaping

Just One More
“Just One More” by Tim (2010) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Many smokers feel that an evening drag before bed helps to relax them, and nicotine does have that effect. However, paradoxically, it also has the opposite effect as a stimulant.

In addition, the inhalation of smoke, regardless the vessel, can aggravate the airways and create problems with breathing after you fall asleep.

People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are especially at risk for respiratory problems during sleep which are linked to inhalation of cigarettes or vaping compounds.

What about marijuana?

The concerns for people who smoke or vape marijuana are the same. Even if this substance is legal to use where you live, this does not cancel out the negative side effects that both smoking and marijuana have on the body.

Also, marijuana has much the same impact that alcohol has when it comes to sleep. Even if you consume it as an edible, you are still risking poor sleep architecture and fragmented sleep all the same. Sleep habits that revolve around marijuana use may or may not be helpful, as researchers still have much to learn about long-term usage of cannabinoid substances and their impact on sleep.