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How to get enough sleep on long summer days

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By Andrea Brown, Herald Writer
  • Kim Carney / The Herald

It's bedtime.
But there's a problem. Instead of "Goodnight, moon" it's "Goodnight, sun."
Going to sleep in the summer can be difficult when it stays light until 10 p.m.
Just when you were happy to be over your winter blues, here comes the sun on steroids.
"This is an entirely different problem," said Everett Clinic clinical psychologist Paul Schoenfeld.
The good news is that many people with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, don't have the gloom or lethargy during the long days of summer.
"What they struggle with is excessive energy," Schoenfeld said. "There is something about the light that really energizes."
Oh, does it ever.
"On really sunny days our drivers get a little bit amped up," he said. "You see people driving around not nearly as relaxed as on a rainy, cloudy day."
It's our wiring.
"Human beings and all animals are affected by the amount of sunlight and length of the day," he said. "From the evolutionary perspective, human beings and other animals are meant to be more active during the summer to gather food and things for survival in preparation for the winter.
"We don't do that anymore. We go to supermarkets. They're open 24 hours."
Biking. Hiking. Playing. Who wants to sleep when there's so much fun to be had in the sun?
"People want to take advantage of it. There's nothing really wrong with that," Schoenfeld said.
The problem is when you hit the sack, eyes wide open.
"Give yourself time at the end of the day to try to settle yourself down," he said.
For parents, it means kids to quell.
"Trying to get your younger children to go to sleep when it's light out is a problem," he said. "It's partly being out of school."
The longer day tends to push the evening meal later, which doesn't help matters. "It's not a good a idea to go to sleep on a full stomach," he said. "It's a recipe for heartburn."
Don't put away that dawn-simulating alarm clock that was your BFF on those dark winter mornings. You don't need the rise-and-shine light function, but many devices play bird chirps, ocean waves and pond sounds at a push of a button. For some people, listening to frogs ribbit really works as a sleep aid. These can also be used as a gentle wake-up serenade.
For children, "it is very effective to play lullabies or music or something that's calming or soothing," Schoenfeld said.
Once you start a sleep regimen, stick to it. Go to bed around the same time and get up at the same time. Having a ritual in place will help later to adapt to the dark doldrums of winter.
"People are easily conditioned," he said.
Get blinds or shades that are blackening to block the light. These get the room really dark. It's like when you stay at hotel and close the curtains and have no idea what time it is.
Just make sure you set your alarm -- or your ribbiting frogs -- so you get up in time.
For parents: Four sleep myths debunked
Myth 1: A later bedtime results in a later wake time. It doesn't work that way. Sleep is biological, not logical. When you keep your children up later at night they become overtired, which makes it harder to settle at bedtime. Overtiredness can also lead to more night wakings, an increased likelihood of night terrors, earlier morning wake times and shorter naps. The solution? Try putting your child to bed a little earlier and see if he wakes any later in the morning. Just 15 minutes can make a difference.
Myth 2: Some children just require less sleep. Every child is different, but research shows that many children are not getting enough required sleep. How do you know if your child is getting enough? A well-rested child is able to wake in the morning on her own in good spirits, is alert and happy throughout the day, and does not fall asleep in the car. It may appear that your child requires less sleep than what is recommended, but the opposite is most likely true.
Myth 3: TV at the end of the day is a great way for children to calm down. TV and screen time should not be part of that routine. The purpose of bedtime rituals is to cue your child to begin to wind down to sleep. Screen time actually does the opposite, which is why it is recommended that all screen time be stopped at least 90 minutes before bedtime (same goes for adults). Research has found that the blue light emitted from the screen inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone needed to induce and sustain sleep. A calming bedtime routine might include reading, soothing music or a quiet game.
Myth 4: An energetic child at bedtime is not tired. If your child looks ready to hit the playground before bed, chances are he has missed his window of opportunity to fall asleep. A second wind is a sign of being overtired and not a sign of being too awake to fall asleep. Learn the sleepy signs of your children to get them to bed before they become overtired.
Story tags » Mental healthWellness

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