It may be true that the early bird gets the worm. But there’s no advantage to waking up before the birds—or so I’m told by insomnia sufferers who routinely wake up at 2:30 or 3 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. It’s depressing to wake up too early night after night.
Here’s why early morning insomnia occurs and how to get your sleep cycle more in sync with daylight and darkness.
There’s a campaign going to educate people about the importance of sleep. Some companies are responding by installing “nap rooms” where employees can catch a few winks during the workday (or the work night).
But access to a nap room at work would not improve my productivity or my health. Nor would it make me less prone to insomnia. What would help (if I were still going in to work everyday rather than working from home) would be the option to work on a flextime schedule in sync with my body clock. Here’s why:
Artificial lighting gets a bad rap in stories about sleep these days. Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, we’re told, our forebears slept longer than we do today.
There are reasons to think this might be true: Exposure to artificial lighting at night delays secretion of melatonin, in turn postponing sleep. Light at night can also reset the body clock, altering sleep timing and giving rise to circadian rhythm disorders and insomnia.
Advice for how to avoid these problems usually runs along the lines of dimming lights in the evening and getting plenty of exposure to sunlight during the day. Count me as a believer here. But the back-to-nature solutions some are touting? Meh, I’ll pass.
Blue light gets a bad rap these days in articles about sleepy teens. Exposure to blue light in the evening interferes with the secretion of melatonin (a sleep-friendly hormone), pushing circadian rhythms out of whack. This can lead to insomnia or sleep deprivation. Doctors are counseling teens and the rest of us to turn off devices that emit blue light—computers, tablets, and smartphones—in the run-up to bedtime.
This is sound advice as far as it goes. But the story on light is bigger than this simple warning suggests. Knowing how to manage your exposure to blue light can help you steer clear of sleep problems and increase your daytime stamina.
Stressors at work— demanding bosses, looming deadlines, performance reviews, and the like—can fuel insomnia. But low light and the timing of work can also affect sleep. Lack of exposure to sunlight on the job and night or shift work may reduce total sleep time and deprive you of energy in your waking hours.
But you may be able to manage these less-than-optimal work conditions in ways that improve both your sleep and your stamina.
I’ve just heard of melatonin replacement therapy, a reader wrote last week to Ask The Savvy Insomniac, and I’m wondering if I should look into it. I’m 61. I never used to have problems with insomnia but now I wake up a lot at night. Over-the-counter melatonin does nothing for me. Is the melatonin used in replacement therapy somehow different?
Got ADHD? Chances are you’ve got insomnia symptoms, too. About 92 percent of the subjects in a recent study of adults with ADHD reported going to bed late because they were “not tired” or “too keyed up to sleep.”
The sleep problems of adults with ADHD may be due to delayed (and possibly less stable) circadian rhythms. If you’ve got ADHD-related insomnia, treatments aimed at advancing circadian phase may help.