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The overlooked culprit that sabotages sleep, from the September 2015 Harvard Health Letter

September 01, 2015

Sleeping late now and then may feel like a luxury. But an inconsistent sleep schedule can throw off the body’s sleep and waking pattern, or circadian rhythm, reports the September 2015 Harvard Health Letter. “It can lead to insomnia, but people don’t realize that their schedule is causing the problem,” says sleep specialist Dr. Cynthia Dorsey, assistant professor of psychology in Harvard Medical School’s psychiatry department.

To get sleep and waking patterns back on track, Dr. Dorsey recommends talking to a sleep expert. The first step is a physical exam to rule out underlying health conditions that may cause insomnia. If no underlying cause is found, try a sleep journal. Each morning, write down the wake time, the bedtime from the night before, how long it took to fall asleep, and whether there was any waking in the night—and if so, how many times. After two weeks, a pattern will emerge. It can help pinpoint any changes that need to be made.

The wake time is most important to getting on a schedule again because it anchors the circadian sleep rhythm. Dr. Dorsey recommends using an alarm clock to stick to the schedule.

Make bedtime about seven or eight hours before the alarm will sound. It also helps to make a wind-down period part of the bedtime routine. That means stopping the use of all electronics an hour and a half before bed, keeping the lights low, and doing relaxing yet nonstimulating activities such as reading. Filling the day with more structure will also reinforce the circadian rhythm. Keep a regular schedule for work, meals, exercise, and activities such as grocery shopping, socializing, or housework.

Read the full-length article: "Restructure your day to get a better night’s sleep"


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