Your body comes equipped from the factory with auto-sleep mechanisms. Through your eyes, your body knows when it’s light or dark outside, and your already-equipped circadian rhythm sends messages to the brain when it’s dark that it’s beddy-bye time. At the same time, your eyes, in the absence of light (specifically, blue light), sends a message to your brain to start producing the sleep hormone melatonin. Soon you’re off to slumbersville.
Now, while you’re naturally equipped to know when to sleep and to let your body take over when it’s time to rejuvenate through slumber, sometimes the manufacturer issues a recall — in the form of sleep disorders, or malfunctions in your natural sleep processes such as sleep apnea or nasal problems — but most of the time we tinker with the manufacturer’s natural installation and disrupt our own sleep mechanism.
In fact, disrupting our own sleep rhythm is pretty easy to do in our modern age.
First, there are the challenges of daily life that push us to keep excelling, which often means we deliberately decide to be stay awake more and sleep less — and then make up for the loss of sleep in the daytime with caffeine and energy drinks.
Second, the comforts of modern living militate against good sleep as well. We often have televisions blaring in our bedrooms, or we take tablets with us to continue working or check our emails while in bed. Plus, we may have light sources blaring at us in our bedrooms, even if only from our modern alarm clocks. All these sources of light confuse our melatonin-production mechanism, making it hard to fall and/or stay asleep.
In other words, the first requirement of good sleep hygiene — the key to keeping your body’s natural sleep mechanisms functioning correctly — is to sleep in a sufficiently darkened room and to cease electronic interruptions on computers, cellphones or televisions well before retiring, say an hour or more.
That’s why at the beginning we said “think caveman days.” There are no light interruptions in a cave when night falls, so sleep overtakes us easily. Now, though we can’t quite recreate cave-like environments in our electro-neon-driven modern society, we can make bedroom and sleep habit adjustments to let our natural sleep mechanisms function as they are meant to function.
Is this all there is to good sleep hygiene? Often, it can be. Just be kinder to our physical selves when retiring for the night, but often even turning off the light sources isn’t enough. What to do then? We’ll be discussing other good sleep hygiene techniques in the next couple of posts, so please join us for the next installment on “Eat, Drink and Be Sleepy,” and we’re not referring to alcohol.