Sleep patterns are exactly what they sound like; our patterns of sleep. Sometimes referred to as a chronotype, your sleep pattern is what places you into the “night owl” or “early bird” category. While it is possible that genetics can play a role in sleep patterns, more often than not they’re based on the sleep habits of each individual. This is partially why many people experience a change in chronotype over the years. As they age they pick up different habits which result in changing sleep patterns.
Many individuals have habits that they don’t even realize our habits. Sleep is easily affected by a variety of influences. The things we do when we wake up, our activities throughout the day, and our nighttime routine all impact the quality and quantity of our sleep. Outside forces we have no control over also influence sleep. The amount of daylight, for example, plays a role in sleep behavior. Even daylight saving time is a factor.
Daylight saving time occurs across most of the United States. In the spring we set our clocks ahead by one hour, and in the fall we move them back by one hour. This ritual began with Benjamin Franklin in an effort to help people take advantage of longer daylight hours in the summer months to reduce energy costs. Now, less than half of the countries in the world observe daylight saving time.
Daylight saving time does more than just help us turn on the lights a little later in the evening, it also impacts sleep patterns. Exposure to bright light throughout the evening reduces the body’s ability to create melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone created by the pineal gland. It helps control sleep patterns and maintains the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Decreased melatonin levels due to excessive evening and night time light makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This includes all sources of light; daylight as well as artificial light. For example, watching TV in bed can suppress melatonin production.
Research has hinted that many people never fully adjust to daylight saving time. This is especially true for individuals with the “night owl” chronotype. In fact, the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health states there is generally an increase in workplace accidents following the spring shift into daylight saving time. Not only do people lose an hour of sleep during the night, but their circadian rhythm is thrown off for weeks at a time.
The time change in the fall can also impact people. Individuals who commute may find themselves driving to and from work during dark periods of the day. This has been shown to lead to an increase in drowsiness in the afternoon.
Daylight saving time is an excellent opportunity to evaluate your sleep patterns and assess which changes need to be made. Learning which adjustments work for you during this time of year will improve your overall sleep habits. Getting adequate rest is significant in being able to function at your best throughout the day. Sleep is also exceedingly important when it comes to your health. You can begin to change your sleep patterns for the better by implementing the following suggestions.
Pick a time to go to bed and stick to it. Your bed time should be consistent and it deserves respect. When you do go to bed, eliminate unnecessary light sources. Avoiding television and other electronics, as well as having curtains or blinds to create a darker environment are important. This is especially true during daylight saving time when it gets dark much later. Limiting light will allow your body to create the melatonin it needs to help you fall asleep. The longer you practice these behaviors, the more quickly you’ll be able to fall asleep at the designated time.
If you still have difficulties going to sleep at night, you may need more exposure to brighter light during the day. If you spend your entire day in a dimly lit room, your body will have difficulties telling the difference between night and day. Try to get outside and spend some time in the sun to correct your circadian rhythm. Proper diet and exercise can also help rebalance your sleep patterns.
Sometimes doing all of the right things still doesn’t help correct sleep patterns. In cases like this you may want to talk to your health care provider about being evaluated for sleep disorders. There are many sleep disorders which, if left untreated, can wreak havoc on your life.
If your doctor does suspect a sleep disorder they may request you undergo evaluation in a sleep center. It’s important to follow their suggestion and get tested. Many sleep disorders can lead to long term health effects if not treated. The good news is that sleep disorders are generally easily treated. The solution may be as simple as a prescription sleep aid to help you get back on track. If you have a more complex sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea then your doctor may suggest some lifestyle changes as well as additional treatment. Lifestyle changes may include diet, exercise, sleeping position, and nighttime routine. In cases of OSA, a nighttime sleep aid may actually worsen the situation. This is why it’s so important to undergo testing rather than simply treating the symptoms.
Occasionally sleep disorders will require more extensive treatment options. It’s important to understand that there are typically many treatment options for sleep disorders. Treatment only works if followed. Work with your health care provider to find a treatment option that not only works for you, but is something you will stick with. Treatment needs to be followed consistently in order to prevent or reverse any long term health damage. If your health care provider is unable to provide a solution, check with a dentist certified in treating sleep disorders.