Don’t Let Insomnia Spoil the Summer

Do you experience a sudden onset of insomnia at about this time every year? Not much is written on seasonal insomnia that occurs in warm weather. Yet I’m convinced it’s a real phenomenon since my posts on summer insomnia get lots of traffic starting in May.

Here’s updated information—and speculation—on what could be causing the problem and how to get a better night’s sleep.

Waking up too early caused by bright summer sunriseDo you experience a sudden onset of insomnia at about this time every year? Not much is written on seasonal insomnia that occurs in warm weather. Yet I’m convinced it’s a real phenomenon since my posts on summer insomnia get lots of traffic starting in May.

Here’s updated information—and speculation—on what could be causing the problem and how to get a better night’s sleep.

Excessive Heat and Light

Late spring and summer are the hottest, lightest times of the year, and excessive heat and light are not very conducive to sleep.

In humans, core body temperature fluctuates by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit every day. Sleep is most likely to occur when core body temperature is falling (at night) and at its low point (some two hours before you typically wake up). Some research suggests that impaired thermoregulation may be a factor in insomnia, that sometimes you may simply be too hot to fall asleep. If so, a bedroom that’s too hot may exacerbate that problem, interfering with your body’s ability to cool down.

Light, too, can interfere with sleep. It does so by blocking secretion of melatonin, a hormone typically secreted at night. Exposure to bright light late in the evening or early in the morning—a phenomenon more likely to occur in months around the summer solstice—may keep you from sleeping as long as you’d like.

Other Possible Challenges to Sleep in the Summer

Swedish researchers have found that people with environmental intolerances to things like noise and pungent chemicals are more prone to insomnia than people without these intolerances. Depending on where you live, sleeping with open windows in the warm weather—if it leads to more noise or bad odors in the bedroom—could interfere with sleep.

Finally, new research conducted at Poznan University of Medical Sciences found that medical students in Poland had higher levels of circulating cortisol—a stress hormone—in the summer than in the winter. This is a preliminary result, and whether it can be confirmed or will hold true for the general population is unknown. Yet if humans do have higher levels of cortisol in the summer than in the winter, this, too, could have a negative effect on sleep.

Sleep Better in the Hot Weather

Climate control is the answer to many environmental triggers of insomnia in the spring and summer. Yet not everyone has air conditioning. If at night you’re too hot to sleep, take care to cool your sleeping quarters down in advance:

  • In the daytime, keep window shades and curtains closed to block out heat from the sun.
  • Later in the evening, use a window fan (facing outward) to draw cool air through the house. Open and close windows strategically so the bedroom is cool by the time you’re ready to sleep.
  • If your bedroom is on an upper floor that simply won’t cool down, sleep on a makeshift bed downstairs.

If keeping windows open at night exposes you to too much outside noise, block it out with silicone ear plugs or high-tech ear plugs, or mask it with white or pink noise using a small fan, a white noise machine, or SleepPhones.

Manage Your Exposure to Sunlight

Daily exposure to bright light helps keep sleep regular—but not if the exposure comes early in the morning or at night. Sunlight that awakens you at 5 a.m. or keeps you up past your normal bedtime may shorten your summer nights, depriving you of the full amount of sleep you need. If you’re sensitive to light,

  • Install light-blocking shades, curtains, and skylight covers on bedroom windows.
  • Purchase a lightweight eye mask for use during sleep.
  • Wear sunglasses if you’re outside in the evening.
  • At home, lower shades and curtains by 8:30 or 9 p.m. even if it’s still light outside, and start your bedtime routine at the same time as you do in other seasons.
  • Avoid devices with a screens in the hour leading up to bedtime.

Reduce Stress

If circulating stress hormones are an issue during the summertime (or if for any reason you’re feeling stress), then kicking back and relaxing, typical in the summer, is not necessarily going to be a dependable path to sound sleep. To reduce stress and sleep better, find a way to make regular aerobic exercise part of your day despite the heat:

  • Do the outdoor sport of your choice—walking, jogging, bicycling—early in the morning or early in the evening. Mall-walking may not be very sexy, but it sure beats walking in 100-degree heat.
  • Buy a seasonal membership in a gym or recreation center, where you can work out in air conditioning.
  • Take up swimming.

A woman recently wrote me wondering if the allergies she normally experiences late in April could trigger seasonal insomnia. I couldn’t find any information on this. But insomnia that routinely occurs at certain times of year is probably triggered by environmental or situational factors. Figuring out what the triggers are is the first step to finding a remedy.

Q&A: Light and Vitamin D for Seasonal Insomnia

Some people have trouble sleeping when the days get shorter. I’m one of them and so is Gabriel, who recently wrote in wondering how to improve his sleep:

“I was born close to the equator in Brazil, and I usually don’t have problems sleeping when I’m there or during the summer time in Canada, where I live now. But winter is around the corner, and my sleeping problems have just begun again. I usually go to bed at 11 p.m. but wake up around 3 a.m. However, in the summer my wake time is 7 a.m. I feel irritated, depressed and cannot concentrate. . . Is light treatment the way to go?”

Insomnia in colder months due to lack of sunlight and vitamin DSome people have trouble sleeping when the days get shorter. I’m one of them and so is Gabriel, who recently wrote in wondering how to improve his sleep:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was born close to the equator in Brazil, and I usually don’t have problems sleeping when I’m there or during the summer time in Canada, where I live now. But winter is around the corner, and my sleeping problems have just begun again. I usually go to bed at 11 p.m. but wake up around 3 a.m. However, in the summer my wake time is 7 a.m. I feel irritated, depressed and cannot concentrate. . . Is light treatment the way to go?

Lack of Bright Light

Reduced light exposure probably accounts for Gabriel’s symptoms, including his insomnia at night. People who live in northern latitudes (residents of Canada fit the bill) get less exposure to sunlight starting in the middle of fall and continuing through March or April. This can alter circadian rhythms and destabilize sleep. It may be related to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Especially susceptible are those who commute in the dark and work all day in windowless offices, dimly-lit warehouses, and the like. Sunlight resets the body clock to run on a 24-hour cycle. Without daily exposure to sunlight (or to the blue-enriched light emitted by a light box), circadian rhythms may go out of sync. Secretion of the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin may be delayed in the evening. (Or, as I suspect in my case, it may begin too early, causing me to drift off and—like Gabriel—wake up too early.)

Sleep-related symptoms vary from person to person, but here are some you might recognize in yourself:

  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Trouble falling asleep or a tendency to fall asleep earlier than normal
  • Having an erratic sleep schedule
  • Trouble getting out of bed
  • Feeling groggy in the morning and tired during the day

Increase Your Exposure to Bright Light

Getting a healthy dose of exposure to sunlight every day may solve the problem. Take a walk outside or move your desk to the sunny side of the room.

Light treatment with a light box can also work. Light emanating from a light box mimics the blue-enriched light from the sun. Set it up so the light floods your work space but you’re not looking directly into it: this will likely increase your alertness and help stabilize your sleep. The amount of light exposure needed varies from one person to the next.

Get Enough Vitamin D

Another thing to consider is taking vitamin D supplements. Emerging evidence suggests that lack of the sunshine vitamin may contribute to insomnia and sleep problems in the wintertime, when the days are shorter and more overcast. The latest study published on this topic appeared last February, and the results strongly suggest that sufficient levels of vitamin D are important to maintaining healthy sleep. Among over 3,000 men ages 68 years and older,

  • lower serum vitamin D levels were associated with higher odds of short sleep duration (less than 5 hours a night), and
  • the sleep of men with low levels of vitamin D was less efficient.

The human body produces vitamin D with exposure to sunlight. So people living in northern latitudes are more likely than others to develop a vitamin D deficiency in the wintertime. Other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency are these:

  • Being female or older
  • Being obese or underweight
  • Having a physically inactive lifestyle
  • Having dark skin (The pigment melanin reduces the ability of the skin to manufacture vitamin D with exposure to sunlight.)

While the relationship between sleep and vitamin D is not fully understood, existing research suggests it’s probably a good idea to take a supplement, especially if during the colder months your sleep takes a turn for the worse. The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 international units (IUs) daily for people up to 70 years old and 800 units for people 71 years and older. But the safe upper limit for vitamin D is currently 4,000 IUs a day.

Do you have trouble sleeping in the colder months of the year? If you’ve tried using a light box, has it helped?

Can’t Sleep in the Summer? Here’s What to Do

Sunshine and warm weather are a boost to the spirit after a long, hard winter. But they may not do much for your sleep. In fact, if you’re sensitive to light and heat, long days and warm nights can be a setup for insomnia.

Here’s how to get more sleep as we move into June and July.

Insomnia may show up in the summer with longer days and hotter nightsSunshine and warm weather are a boost to the spirit after a long, hard winter. But they may not do much for your sleep. In fact, if you’re sensitive to light and heat, long days and warm nights can be a setup for insomnia.

Here’s how to get more sleep as we move into June and July.

 

Manage Your Exposure to Light

For people who live in northern latitudes, the daily dose of sunlight at the approach of the summer solstice is nearly double what it is at the winter solstice. Extra bright light in the morning may not be a problem. In fact, it can help synchronize circadian rhythms and give you the same lift as a cup of coffee. (If sunlight wakes you up too early, install light-blocking curtains on your bedroom windows.)

But daylight that extends past 9 and 10 p.m. can delay secretion of the hormone melatonin, postponing the onset of sleep. If you go to bed at your normal bedtime, you can’t sleep. You toss and turn rather than quickly drifting off.

Manage summer insomnia by cutting down on your exposure to bright light in the evening and at night:

  • Wear sunglasses when you’re outside
  • Draw shades and curtains around 8:30 p.m., and lower the lights in your home.
  • Sign off devices with screens an hour or 2 before bedtime, or wear blue light-blocking glasses
  • Put red lightbulbs in nightlights. (While exposure to white light at night may affect your sleep, exposure to red light likely will not.)

Cool Down

Heat can be a factor in summertime insomnia. Research shows that people tend to sleep more readily when their core body temperature is falling, and that extreme ambient heat may interfere with the internal cooling process that normally occurs at night. The ideal room temperature for sleep is a little bit lower than is comfortable with during the daytime, so to get more sleep in the summer,

  • Keep your shades drawn to block out heat from the sun.
  • Use air conditioning and fans to lower the temperature of your bedroom.
  • If air conditioning and fans are unavailable, consider sleeping in a lower level of your home.

There are other ways to facilitate internal heat loss and cool down. Research shows—paradoxically—that engaging in activities that increase skin temperature actually help to cool you down. Warming the skin hastens internal heat loss by dilating blood vessels close to the skin. This allows for the swift release of body heat and a lowering of core body temperature, in turn promoting sleep. So a few hours before you normally go to bed,

At times when you can’t do much of anything in the evening or control the ambient temperature (say you’re driving across country and the air conditioning is broken in the only motel room available at 10 p.m.), take a cool shower before hopping into bed and lie down with a cool washcloth on your forehead.

 

Insomnia: Holding Steady the Next Day

Will there ever be a morning-after pill prescribed for insomnia? Wouldn’t that be nice. Insomnia wouldn’t be half as bad if it weren’t so debilitating the next day. No fatigue to contend with, no brain fog, no low mood. White nights could even be enjoyable if we knew in the morning that we could resort to Plan B.

For now there’s no simple way to avoid insomnia symptoms that occur in the daytime. But there are ways to minimize their impact, whether the bad nights come often or just once in a while. Here are 6 habits I find useful and maybe you will, too.

Daytime affects of insomnia can be reduced by stretching and other activitiesWill there ever be a morning-after pill prescribed for insomnia? Wouldn’t that be nice. Insomnia wouldn’t be half as bad if it weren’t so debilitating the next day. No fatigue to contend with, no brain fog, no low mood. White nights could even be enjoyable if we knew in the morning that we could resort to Plan B.

For now there’s no simple way to avoid insomnia symptoms that occur in the daytime. But there are ways to minimize their impact, whether the bad nights come often or just once in a while. Here are 6 habits I find useful and maybe you will, too:

Eat a Healthy Breakfast

This might seem like a no-brainer, but with 18 percent of Americans older than age 2 regularly skipping breakfast, it’s worth a mention. Research suggests that eating a morning meal is beneficial in many ways: it lifts the mood and improves memory, and it makes you more active in the morning. Particularly when you’re feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived, a good breakfast is a must.

Make Judicious Use of Caffeine

It used to be that caffeinated beverages were on the “No Fly” list for people with insomnia. But expert opinion has changed. The thinking now is that while the caffeine-sensitive should avoid it within 8 hours of bedtime, it’s OK in moderation—and can even be helpful—as tolerated earlier in the day.

The trick is to discover what “as tolerated” means on days when you feel like drinking a whole pot of coffee. Caffeine has an average half-life of 5 to 6 hours (meaning that in 5 to 6 hours the amount of caffeine in the blood will have decreased by half). So most people can drink caffeinated beverages in the morning without fear of compromising sleep that night.

But many people experience a circadian slump somewhere in the middle of the afternoon. Particularly after a short night’s sleep, that’s when you really crave a pick-up. Is a 3 p.m. cappuccino going to set you up for another bad night?

Not necessarily, if you’re young or middle-aged. But it takes older adults longer to metabolize drugs. Keep this in mind as you decide when to drink that last cup of joe.

Drink Plenty of Water

Even mild dehydration can depress your mood, lower your ability to concentrate, and make tasks feel more difficult. It can also impair performance and short-term memory. So make a point of sipping often throughout the day. Keeping water on hand at your desk, or making frequent trips to the water cooler, could take the edge off a low mood and make it easier to accomplish what needs to be done.

Get Up and Move Around

Physical activity tends to elevate mood and alertness. New Zealand researchers found that subjects who reported higher levels of habitual physical activity also endorsed higher levels of interest, excitement, enthusiasm, and alertness—all qualities you may be short on if you’re short on sleep. Particularly if your work keeps you sedentary, make an effort to get up, move around a lot, and stretch at your desk. At lunchtime, take a walk.

Follow the Sun

Increasing your exposure to sunlight may also help to counteract symptoms of insomnia. Bright light tends to increase vitality and elevate mood. It’s also been shown to enhance alertness and cognitive performance. Even on cloudy days, daylight is 2 or 3 times brighter than normal office lighting. So make liberal use of it when you can. Particularly if you’re feeling sluggish, spend time outdoors or inside where there are plenty of windows.

Reorganize Your Day

You may not have much say in how you organize your day. Whatever tasks are on the schedule—make sales calls, teach a class, chair a meeting—you’ve just got to power through them, never mind that you’re exhausted when the day begins. But sometimes you can reset the agenda. After bad nights, juggle your tasks so you tackle the hard ones when you’re normally most alert and save the routine tasks for when you’re not.

Doing all these things may not have a big impact on your nights. But they may help you chart a steadier course during the day. That counts for something, don’t you think?

Sleep Well Despite Poor Work Conditions

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.

working without natural light has a negative effect on sleep and staminaStressors 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.

Working without Natural Light

Working without the benefit of sunlight during the daytime has a surprisingly negative effect on sleep, a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows. The goal of the study was to compare the vitality and sleep of employees that worked in windowless cubicles to those of subjects whose workstations were exposed to natural light.

Not only did the 22 workers in the windowless cubicles report less activity during the daytime and poorer quality sleep. On average, they also got 46 minutes less sleep than the 27 employees who worked near windows.

Out of Sync

The timing of your workday can also interfere with your sleep. Nearly 15 million full-time American workers labor on schedules that involve night, rotating or irregular shifts, which necessitates the resetting of the body clock.

Having to work when you’d normally be asleep and to sleep when you’d normally be awake causes changes in the activity of genes, a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows. Genes control the production of proteins, and to function optimally, protein production needs to coordinate with the natural cycle of activity and rest.

When the body clock is reset, as occurs in people who do night and shift work, the number of genes synched up to the body’s natural circadian rhythms falls rather dramatically, pushing digestive and other physiologic processes out of whack. Ten percent of shift workers are regularly diagnosed with “Shift Work Sleep Disorder”—they feel sleepy on the job and have insomnia when it’s time to sleep.

Night owls may choose to work the night shift and, given their delayed circadian rhythms, this schedule suits them to a “T.” Others fare poorly. The years when I worked a split shift were the years when my insomnia was at its worst.

What’s a Worker to Do?

If low light is a problem at work,

  • Invest in a light box and use it (for tips on how to use a light box, see my blog on winter insomnia)
  • Go outside or to sunlit parts of the building during breaks.
  • If you do work near windows, keep the blinds open and, if necessary, use anti-glare shades for computer screens.

If the timing of your workday is a problem,

  • Aim for consistency in your sleep schedule. It may be tempting to alter your sleep schedule on weekends to maximize time with family and friends. But having to readjust to your weekday schedule on Monday may leave you struggling to stay alert at work and tossing and turning in bed.
  • Manipulate your exposure to light. Bright light in the work environment will help to keep you alert and on your toes. But exposure to sunlight on your way home from work will tend to delay sleep further. If your goal is to get to sleep immediately after work, wear dark glasses on the way home.
  • Make judicious use of caffeine. Drinking coffee at the beginning of your shift should not interfere with getting to sleep when you get home. But the caffeine-sensitive will want to avoid caffeine later in the work shift. If sleepiness becomes a problem, the better strategy is to get up and move around.

Sleep at College: Here’s How to Get Enough

Off to college soon (or know of someone who is)? You’re probably looking forward to interesting classes, good friends, and the freedom to live away from the prying eyes of Mom and Dad. Heady prospects, all three! But you’ll also face some challenges. Getting enough sleep may be one.

But college life doesn’t have to be disruptive to sleep. By planning ahead, you can get the sleep you need whether you’re inclined to get up early or burn the midnight oil. Here’s what you can to do get a better night’s sleep away from home.

Make sure you sleep well at collegeOff to college soon (or know of someone who is)? You’re probably looking forward to interesting classes, good friends, and the freedom to live away from the prying eyes of Mom and Dad. Heady prospects, all three! But you’ll also face some challenges. Getting enough sleep may be one.

Sleep at college was a challenge for me: growing up in a quiet home, prone to occasional bouts of insomnia, I was unprepared for life in a dormitory. The dorm was a place where rock music and partying ruled—no matter that some of us had early morning classes. Often I struggled with insomnia. That I could see, the world was divided into two tribes: early risers and night owls. Living so close together was a pain in the neck!

College life doesn’t have to be so disruptive to sleep. By planning ahead, you can get the sleep you need whether you’re inclined to get up early or burn the midnight oil. Laura McMullen in US News & World Report recently offered advice on how to sleep well at college. Here’s mine.

If You’re an Early Riser

Especially if you’re a light sleeper or one who needs a solid 8 to 9 hours, you’ll need to be prepared to deal with unwanted noise at night. You can

  • Arm yourself with silicone earplugs
  • Use a device that creates white noise. Small fans work well, as do white noise generators that can be purchased online or at stores like Best Buy. My brother swears by his SleepPhones, also available online.

A bigger challenge for early risers may be negotiating with roommates for the conditions you need to get a good night’s sleep.

  • Be up front about the situation from the start. Tell your roommates you’ve got an early class and need the place to be quiet and dark by 11 p.m. Ask them please to text rather than talk on the phone, or to wear a headphone while watching TV.
  • If friendly negotiations don’t do the trick, then request a move–the sooner, the better. Ideally you’ll know of another person looking for an early-bird roommate or someone who’s likely to be considerate of your needs. If not, interview prospective roommates about their habits at night. Given a choice of location, avoid rooms near high-traffic areas like bathrooms and stairways.

If You’re a Night Owl

Noise won’t be such a problem if you’re naturally inclined to stay up late. But you may find that your sleep preferences are out of sync with daily life on campus. Your circadian rhythms are delayed, so you’ll tend to be sound asleep when early morning classes begin and you may not feel truly alert until much later in the day. (A young night owl I know claims he doesn’t really hit his stride until 6 p.m.)

To get the sleep you need and feel alert during the day,

  • Make strategic use of bright light. Light is your friend in the morning but a foe at night. When you get up in the morning, open the curtains and turn on the lights. Spend time outside if you can. In the evening, keep lighting low. Avoid computer screens and other light-emitting devices for an hour or two before going to bed.
  • Check with your doctor about using over-the-counter melatonin supplements. Taken around dinnertime, they enable people to fall asleep earlier than normal—at midnight, for example, rather than 1 or 2 a.m. (For details, see this blog or watch this video trailer.)
  • Schedule your classes later in the day. If you slept through 8 o’clock classes in high school, chances are you’ll sleep through early morning classes at college. You may be older, but circadian rhythms remain fairly consistent.

Arrange for active days and restful nights as best you can. If you still find yourself dropping off to sleep in class, catch some shut-eye in the middle of the afternoon. Ten- to 30-minute naps can do wonders for your stamina and put you on top of your game.

Q & A: Solutions for Sleepy Night Owls

A small business owner wrote to Ask The Savvy Insomniac to say that her problem was that she didn’t normally feel sleepy until around 3 a.m.

Here are a couple ways she could shift her biological rhythms so that she feels like going to sleep earlier.

owl-headphonesA small business owner wrote to Ask The Savvy Insomniac to say that her problem was that she didn’t normally feel sleepy until around 3 a.m.

“When I try to analyze my sleep problems,” she wrote, “I feel I’m possibly confusing being a nocturnal person with insomnia. I’ve always wanted to stay up late. I feel like I’m about 3 hours behind the rest of the world. No matter how tired I am in the evening, I still can’t go to sleep till early in the morning!

“Sometimes just  knowing that I have to get up earlier than usual for a meeting or having to catch an early flight makes me crazy and not able to sleep. Then I try to regain what I lost in sleep the following morning. On some days I don’t get in to my office until 1 p.m.!” Other than take sleeping pills, she wanted to know, what could she do that would help her get to sleep at a reasonable hour?

An Inherited Trait

It’s no fun being a night owl when you have to march to the beat of a corporate clock. Getting up at 7 a.m. may be easy for those who fall asleep by midnight, but it’s much harder if you can’t fall asleep till 3. You’re a zombie at early morning meetings, spilling coffee and forgetting papers and keys, and then slogging through the day with what feels like a whopping hangover.

This inclination to want to go to sleep and get up late is not a matter of choice; one in 10 people are genetically programmed to experience what doctors call Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, or DSPD. The body clock simply runs on a later schedule in people with DSPD. Here are a couple ways to shift your biological rhythms so that you feel like going to sleep earlier.

Bright Light Therapy

One is to expose yourself to bright light for a few hours right after you wake up, every day. Sunlight works best—but taking a walk or sitting by a window may not be in the cards if you have to get yourself ready for work or get children off to school.

Another option is to use a light box. While sitting beside a light box for two hours straight may not fit into your early morning routine, time with the light box can be interspersed with taking showers, getting dressed, making breakfast, and other early morning activities. The idea is to spend as much time by the light box as possible in the first few hours after waking up.

Melatonin Supplements

The other way to shift your biological rhythms forward is to use melatonin supplements. But taking melatonin according to the instructions on the label—an hour before bedtime—is not going to help. To get a sizeable phase-shifting effect, you have to take it around dinnertime. Specifically, 3 mg of melatonin taken seven hours before the time you actually fall asleep will give you the biggest bang for the buck, according to Charmane Eastman, director of the Biological Rhythms Research Lab at Rush University Medical Center, whom I interviewed last year. As is true of bright light, melatonin has to be used daily to keep your body clock from shifting back to its natural cadence.

A combination of bright light and melatonin supplements works even better than either therapy alone. Not being a night owl myself, I can’t speak from personal experience here. But research shows these therapies to be effective for a majority of night owls wanting to sleep more “normal” hours.

If you’re a night owl, does your work allow you to sleep in late, or have you had to adjust your sleep schedule to start work early? How have you done it?   

Q & A: Early Morning Insomnia

Early birds often awaken in the wee hours of the morning and miss out on social activities in the evening.

Here’s how to sleep later in the morning and delay evening sleepiness using appropriately-timed light exposure and exercise.

Advanced sleep phase disorder can be managed with bright light timed appropriately.Sleep timing varies from person to person and can stray pretty far from the norm. A visitor posted a question on Ask The Savvy Insomniac about waking up early and not being able to fall back to sleep. Here’s what she said:

“What I’ve always had is early morning insomnia, which has gotten earlier and earlier as I’ve gotten older. It used to be when I was working and living in New York City, I’d go to bed at 10 and wake up maybe at 4. Now I can’t keep my eyes open past 8:30. Often I wake up at 1 or 2 and can’t fall back asleep though I stay in bed. A lot of the time, I just don’t feel rested.”

But exercise, she went on to say, “seems to take away some of the tiredness. If I exercise and get my metabolism going, I’m much better. I jog in the morning right within an hour of when I get up.” Still, she said, she’d like to get more sleep. What could she do to prolong her sleep in the morning?

Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder (ASPD)

One problem here may be ASPD, the diagnosis given to people who tend to fall asleep and wake up much earlier than normal, who miss out on evening social activities and awaken in the wee hours of the morning. Rather than cycling every 24 hours, their body clock operates on a shorter cycle, prompting the urge to fall asleep and wake up early.

If this is your situation, changing your habits may help.

1)    Adjust your exposure to light. Light can have a big effect on the timing of sleep cycles, particularly daylight. Exposure to daylight early in the morning (as is habitual for the early morning jogger writing above) will shift your body clock in the wrong direction, making you sleepy soon after dinner. If you’re inclined to ASPD, you’ll want to dim your lights in the morning. Wear dark glasses if an early morning walk is part of the routine. Save your exposure to bright lighting for the evening, when it works in your favor. If turning on the living room lights full blast in the evening doesn’t keep you from nodding off, try sitting beside a light box while you’re reading or watching TV.

2)    Exercise late in the afternoon rather than early in the morning. Like light, bodily activity can affect the timing of sleep. While early morning exercise tends to make you want to nod off earlier in the evening, late afternoon or early evening exercise will delay your sleep cycle, which is what people with ASPD are looking for.

The Take-Away

Changes in light exposure and the timing of exercise may be helpful to early birds wanting more of a social life and less time awake in the dead of the night.