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Bedtime Blues


I don’t know about you, but our summer was filled with spontaneous trips, late-night swims in Calibogue Sound, late-night movie marathons set to the backdrop of a summer storm, and lazy mornings when my daughters and I woke like contented kittens without a care or commitment in the world.

This, of course, is vastly different than the routine we keep during the school year: strict bedtimes, lights out by 9 p.m., alarms set for 6:30 a.m.

Even if you don’t have children, whether you were traveling or just basking in the longer days, I am willing to bet this summer you also fell out of your usual sleep schedule. I would also bet you have heard about the importance of a good night sleep — but that doesn’t mean we all get one every night.

Roughly 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep, and it can have an effect on overall health. During sleep, your brain forms connections that help you process and remember new information. Therefore, a lack of sleep can be detrimental to both your short- and long-term memory.

And because poor sleep can negatively affect neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin and progesterone, you can also experience mood changes and increase your risk of anxiety or depression. Too little sleep also weakens your immune system, which, as cold and flu season approaches, needs to be in tip-top shape.

Insufficient sleep increases your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, and because sleep affects insulin levels, people with bad sleep habits often have higher blood sugar levels and increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

And finally, because inadequate sleep disrupts the chemicals that signal to your brain that you are full, you are likely to over eat and gain weight.

So if experts agree that sleeping well and enough is important, how can we achieve this?

backtoschool2"A sleep routine is critical to achieving good sleep," says Hilton Head Island’s Dr. Frank Barbieri, DDS, MS, sleep apnea specialist and owner of 2 Sleep Well Again. "You must establish the habit of good sleep in order to feel well rested."

He also recommends exercise during the day to sleep more soundly, but says you should refrain from exercise for three hours before bedtime. Barbieri tells his patients that creating a sleep routine — such as listening to relaxing music or doing relaxation breathing exercises—can give your body cues that it is time to settle down and sleep.

Here are a few more tips to transition from summer break to a new sleep schedule:

  • Develop a regular rhythm for your sleep cycle. Try to always go to bed and wake up around the same time - even on weekends. For families, start two weeks before school starts so you can ease into your new sleep schedule. No more luxurious mid-afternoon summer naps. If you have to nap, limit it to 30 to 45 minutes and start no later than 2:30 p.m.
  • No electronics an hour before bedtime. Instead, opt for a crossword puzzle or sudoku or read. But choose carefully: Some people have complained about poor sleep after reading page-turner novels because they read longer than planned or it is more difficult to quiet their mind once they are finished.)
  • Avoid heavy, sugary or caffeinated foods after 4 p.m. Try essential oils like lavender either topically or diffused. (Note: Not all oils are created equal, so you will want to choose from reputable companies like doTERRA or Young Living.)
  • Try supplementing. Stephens Compounding Pharmacy offers several pharmaceutical-grade supplements like magnesium glycinate, inositol and L-theanine and can guide you through product selection. I also like herbal options like chamomile tea. But please consult your primary physician and check for contraindications before starting any new supplement.

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (www.bewellbecreative.com).