Better sleep photo

Experts recommend developing a routine to get better sleep.

After a stressful year of social distancing and self-isolation, it's time to spring the clock forward on March 14.

The start of daylight saving time is dreaded by many people — and with good reason. Daylight saving time actually poses “significant public health and safety risks,” according to a position statement made by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 2020. These risks include higher chances of cardiovascular events, mood disorders and vehicle crashes.

Research published by the journal Sleep Health found that since the pandemic began, more than one-third of people surveyed across the globe reported an increase in sleep disturbances. The study also found that poorer sleep health was associated with greater symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Looking for some advice on how to get a sound night's sleep? Vox talked to Dr. Pradeep Bollu, a sleep expert with MU Health Care, for some tips on how to get better sleep and avoid additional stress and sleep-related health issues.

What you shouldn't do before bed

Consume caffeine. People can have better bedtime habits by avoiding things that disturb sleep. Bollu recommends not consuming caffeine in the six or seven hours before your intended bedtime. Caffeine disrupts sleep by binding to adenosine, a compound in the brain that causes drowsiness. When caffeine is present, adenosine loses its intended effect.

Drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. Alcohol and cigarettes are linked to a variety of health issues, and consuming them before bed can negatively affect sleep, says Bollu. People who have been drinking often fall into deep sleep quickly because of alcohol’s sedative effects, which disrupts natural sleep stages and creates an imbalance in a person’s sleep cycle. The nicotine present in cigarettes has a stimulating effect that can keep smokers awake.

Engage in vigorous exercise. Intense exercise right before bed can lead to trouble falling asleep and overall poorer quality of sleep because your heart rate is increased.

Spend time looking at a screen. “The gratification you get from social media, or movies, or anything online is itself enough to prevent sleep from happening normally,” Bollu says. The enjoyment of those things increases dopamine levels in the brain, which work to keep the body alert. But screens also radiate blue light, which stimulate the alerting centers in the brain independent of their effect on dopamine levels. “You have two heads,” Bollu says. “One, an emotional head that keeps you engaged and happy that dopamine levels go up, and [the other] the blue light coming from the screens that will stimulate your alerting centers.”

What you should do 

Sleep in a moderate temperature. Sleeping in environments that are too hot or too cold can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep. To avoid this disruption, use bedding and clothing and keep the bedroom temperature at a normal level.

Limit stress. “Stress and sleep never go along with each other,” Bollu says. “Stress is basically the body’s defense. When stress kicks in, sleep goes down — that’s the nature of stress.” He says that when stress is present, people will have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, entering deep sleep and may even experience nightmares.

Have a routine. Bollu recommends people establish a regular bedtime and wake up time. Research has found that having a daily routine has many positive effects on overall health. The connection between sleep and health is bidirectional. “You need to do all the right things to get a good night's sleep, and you need a good night's sleep to actually have your body functioning with all pistons firing,” he says.

Listen to your body. “Your body is biologically programmed to get a certain amount of sleep,” Bollu says. On average, that amount is about eight hours, but he says it varies by person. “Understand what your body demands and satisfy what it demands,” he says. “If you don’t, it will set in seas of unwanted events that will cause chronic health issues.”

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