Healthy Choices

Experts shed light on how to catch extra Z’s this summer

The Kansas City Star

Summer is when we come out of hibernation, eager to get outdoors, be more active, take more family vacations. Unless you’re dozing off in a backyard hammock, you’re probably not thinking much about sleep.

Most Americans don’t come close to getting enough rest year-round, experts say, but summertime’s extra daylight hours and higher temperatures can make it even harder.

A report this month from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society reaffirmed that people need seven or more hours of sleep per night to avoid the health risks associated with chronic sleep deprivation, including diabetes, heart disease, cognitive disorders and mental health issues. But at least a third of Americans don’t get the recommend amounts, according to experts.

You have a clock in your head, and that’s the best alarm you’ve got.

Dr. Lydia Wytrzes, medical director of the Sutter Sleep Disorders Center

“The two factors that influence sleep and wakefulness are melatonin production and light exposure,” said Dr. Lydia Wytrzes, medical director of the Sutter Sleep Disorders Centers. “With the longer days – and light-suppressing melatonin – there’s a shorter sleep cycle than in the winter.”

While there have not been specific studies on how much sleep people lose in the summer, health professionals say they see more cases of sleep deprivation this time of year. Here are some tips for sound summer sleeping:

Take sleep seriously

When people are busy, sleep is often the first thing sacrificed to work, family, hobbies or social life. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that only 59 percent of Americans get seven or more hours of sleep each night, compared to 84 percent in 1942.

We all know sleep deprivation can make us grumpy, but experts say the effects are worse than we realize. People who are underslept can experience memory loss, lack of sex drive, trouble regulating emotions and failure to adequately complete day-to-day tasks.

Before alarm clocks were invented, it was someone’s job in English mill and factory towns to knock on residents’ windows and wake them up for work. Cleveland Clinic

It takes two weeks to die from lack of food, but just 10 days without sleep can result in death, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania.

“People don’t value sleep,” Wytrzes said. “They don’t understand how important sleep is in terms of every other aspect of daytime function.” Instead of staying up late watching Netflix, for instance, she recommends getting to bed earlier to ensure you get a full night’s sleep.

Think in cycles

Our sleep is broken down into 90-minute cycles, starting with light sleep and moving into a deep, rapid eye movement sleep, when dreams occur.

Where in a cycle you wake up has a big impact on whether you wake up feeling rested and restored. Waking up in the first stage is relatively painless. Waking up from a deep sleep, say an hour into your cycle, could have you dragging around in zombie mode for the rest of the day.

Guinness World Records no longer tracks the longest period of sleep deprivation, due to the associated health risks. The current record is held by a man who went 11 days without sleep in 1965. National Center for Biotechnology Information

That’s why experts recommend keeping naps to 20 or 30 minutes to truly feel energized when you wake up. The other option is to sleep longer, through an entire cycle, but that could prevent you from getting adequate sleep at night.

Some fitness monitors, such as the FitBit, include a motion sensor that knows when you’re moving around a lot while sleeping – usually during the lighter part of a sleep cycle – and vibrates to wake you up at an appropriate time. The best approach, Wytrzes said, is to go to sleep early enough that your body can get the sleep it needs and wake up on its own when the adequate number of cycles is complete.

“You have a clock in your head, and that’s the best alarm you’ve got,” she said.

Have a routine

When possible, try going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, said Jennifer Martin, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at UCLA. More important, go to sleep when you’re tired and wake up when you’re feeling rested.

65degrees is the ideal temperature for sleepingNational Sleep Foundation

“It’s very important to have a routine, but it’s not just any routine. It has to line up with your biological clock,” she said.

Experts recommend a “transition time” before sleeping, consisting of a relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music. Darken the room by closing the blinds or dimming the lights in order to allow production of a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin.

Lights out ... all of them

While relaxing before bedtime is recommended, doing so with an electronic device is a big no-no. Melatonin levels rise naturally in the evening, but any additional light can suppress production and keep you awake.

If you’re tempted to check your emails one last time before bed, don’t. If you need to use an electronic device, keep the brightness level on low, Martin said.

“If you happen to wake up during the night, don’t check your phone,” she said. “Keep it out of arm’s reach.”

Research has shown that children and teens who use electronic devices after lights-out get less sleep and exhibit increased sleep-deprivation symptoms during the day.

Chill out a little

Even with the Delta breeze, hot nights can keep some Sacramentans awake. Wytrzes recommends keeping the room temperature at about 60 degrees, although that could require more air conditioning than some can afford. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees as the ideal sleeping temperature.

If you can’t chill your whole house, a cooling shower or bath can drop your body temperature, sending a signal to your brain to hit the sheets. It’s also helpful to switch to lighter bedding; cotton dissipates heat better than polyester, Wytrzes said.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola