embrace the night and optimize sleepThe days are getting shorter and there is a little nip in the air, and that can only mean one thing–fall is here!

And with it, we rolled back the clock for that extra hour of sleep in the morning. Thank you daylight-saving time.

Fall is also the perfect time to reboot your habits for optimal sleep because of the longer and cooler nights. Both these environmental factors affect our internal clocks.

Earlier sunsets mean less light and more of a hormone called melatonin that makes us sleepy. Cooler evenings mean our body temperature drops a little and that can help us fall asleep easier.

For a long time, people thought sleep was a passive activity but now we know that it is essential for survival and good health.

It is a time when we consolidate our memories and process the vast amount of information gathered throughout the day. It is also when our body synthesizes hormones, builds muscle, and repairs cells.

These functions of sleep make it essential to our safe and effective functioning throughout the day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsiness contributes to thousands of motor vehicle crashes every year. Lack of sleep is also linked to chronic disease, depression, and obesity.

So, how much sleep do we need each night? 

Different people have varyinng sleep requirements. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is best to pay attention to your own levels of drowsiness after different amounts of sleep to best determine your own needs.

As a strating point, they released a report in early 2015 summarizing the range of sleep times recommended for different age groups.

Sleep recommendations by age group

  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

You can download this sleep chart from the National Sleep Foundation or watch this fun video to learn more.

Tips for a good night sleep

It’s great to know how much sleep you need, but that does you no good if you can’t actually get to sleep. Light and dark play major roles in regulating your sleep, so start with regulating these factors to optimize sleep and wake up refreshed.

Embrace the dark

The sun will be setting a little earlier as we head into winter. And while we don’t recommend you go to bed at sunset (unless you are a very early riser), you can take advantage of the decreased light.

In the hours before bed turn lights down and limit screen time. Your eyes will register less light and that information is processed in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The brain then cues the release of hormones like melatonin and a decrease in body temperature to ready your body for sleep.

We now know that the light emitted by e-readers and mobile devices effects the levels of melatonin even more than natural light. So, it is best to limit their use before bed. Read more about that here.

Welcome the light

First, enjoy that extra hour of sleep brought to you by daylight saving time. Then, let the light help you wake up. If you can, keep your curtains open, so when the sun comes up, light can flood into your eyes and signal your brain to start waking up.

Sleep-inducing melatonin levels will begin to drop and your body temperature will start to rise, making you will feel less sleepy.

Once you’ve settled into good management habits light and dark, start tweaking other factors to find a the optimal routine for you:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Create a calming bed-time ritual.
  • Get plenty of exercise (in the earlier part of the day).
  • Don’t eat a big spicy meal before bed.
  • Have a light snack at bed-time if you are hungry.
  • Keep a “worry book” on your night stand to get things off your mind.

You can find more healthy sleep tips from The National Sleep Foundation here.

If you are having significant trouble sleeping or excessive sleepiness during the day, get in touch with your doctor today.

Photo Credits © Konstantin Yuganov via Dollar Photo Club