Let’s Talk about Sleep

Sleep. Ahhh, that elusive thing we used to get enough of. Maybe. Sometime? Right? Now in the times of Covid, things are at a peak stress level and our sleep rhythm is all out of sync. Are you having trouble sleeping too? Today, I’ve asked Elyse Pertot, a mom in our #specialkindofcrazy community, to share the expertise she brings to the table as an MD!  She has seen some of us post about trouble sleeping and in her kindness – shared this advice!

Read this – sleep is a VITAL part of your FITness journey friends.

What does sleep hygiene even mean… going to bed clean?  

No, however, not a bad thing to do, it means setting up a sleeping environment that allows for a healthy circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm… is that the loud bugs that come out every couple of years?  

No, it’s the natural sleep cycle your body goes through daily, mainly controlled by a melatonin release.

So, now that we have definitions let’s talk about how this all works.  

Before we had artificial light, melatonin would start to be released as the sun went down, its release is triggered by darkness.  This melatonin release starts a cascade of signals to tell your brain to sleep.  When you do go to sleep, you will go through different phases, needing at least 7.5 hours of sleep to complete a healthy and restorative night.  Then the sun rises, light creeps through the windows, onto your closed eyelids, stopping the melatonin release, and therefore stimulating you to wake.  It wasn’t those pesky roosters all along, it was the sun!

Now flash forward to today.  

We have bright fluorescent or LED lights on in our homes, we watch bright LED TVs, we look at our computer finishing email before bed, we stare at our smart phones to check Facebook right before we go to sleep, we are lying in bed, it is 10pm, and we are flooding our brains with BRIGHT light and not melatonin.

So, we finally put down our bright lights and lay in bed awake for a while in darkness, now the melatonin is starting to get released and if we are patient enough we fall asleep.  If we aren’t we look back at that super bright smart phone on the night stand to see what time it is…. Goodbye melatonin!  Time to start over again….

Somehow, we are finally asleep, must be just pure exhaustion…

WAAH WAAH!  Time to wake up and check on that baby… pick up smart phone to see what time it is, goodbye melatonin, its 2am and you just told your brain that 10pm to 2am is your circadian rhythm.  So, tomorrow night, you wake up at 2am, baby is sound asleep, what the heck?  Well last night you set your circadian rhythm to wake up at 2am.

Are we following here?

It doesn’t have to be a crying baby, maybe you have to pee and you turned on the bathroom light, or you hear an email on your phone and you check it, or you get called by colleague about a patient, but you look at that bright light…

Sometimes, there is no way to avoid this, when I am on call and I have to walk into the operating room at 2am to those bright lights… I just have to.  Or you can’t find that darn pacifier in the dark, nursery lights are coming on!  But, there are some things we can do to help.

First, turn off the darn lights at night.

Tturn off the TV, kindle, iPad, smartphone at least an hour before bed, read a book to a dim back light, play a puzzle, talk to your family, turn out those bright lights!  On a ship during deployment, in the evening the lights turn red, red light is not as bright as white or blue light which comes from all of our screens.  This allows the sailors to start releasing melatonin, this is also used as they cross time zones to help reset those rhythms.

Next, set yourself up for success when you do have to wake up in the middle of the night.  

Take the lightbulb out of your fridge if you need to get milk for baby at night.  Have a soft nightlight set in the hallway so you can find the bathroom or get to the nursery without turning on a bright light. Have a breastfeeding light that is dim clipped to the side of your bed, and most importantly get an old red clock!  No more checking the time on your smartphone!

In summary, turn off the lights early, get a red clock, use a nightlight and avoid looking at bright light in the middle of the night.

If you are in a bad cycle and frequent nighttime awakenings or falling asleep are hard for you, this will take 10-14 days of discipline before you start to see a difference, but stick to it, because poor sleep permeates your life.  It leads to decreased mental health, physical health, increased blood pressure, weight gain and mistakes.

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Finally, needing help or other resources? Don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here for you!

you are not alone