Getting Back to Regular Sleep Routines

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

As summer ends, many families confront the daunting task of reestablishing family routines, particularly, sleep routines. Hot summer nights, longer daylight hours, and reduced time urgencies often disrupt sleep routines as adults and children alike often stay up later.

Sleep is an instrumental need – people can go longer without food than sleep. Although we all need sleep, the amount of sleep needed varies based on genetics,circadian rhythm, and developmental life stage. In a day, most adults needabout 8 hours of sleep with only about 10% of adults requiring significantlymore or less sleep in a day. However, children 5 to 12 years old need approximately 10 to 12 hours of sleep and teenagers, typically need more than 9 hours of sleep. Here’s an interesting note about sleep in teenagers. Research indicates that melatonin, a sleep related chemical, is released later in teens(approximately 10:30pm). This biological difference results in teens having difficulty getting to sleep early and increases their ability to stay awake late. Consequently, melatonin lingers in their system longer and as a result,they have difficulty waking in the morning. For many teens, this normalbiological response can be mislabeled “lazy” or unmotivated.

Thereare five stages to sleep – 1, 2, 3, 4, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Stage 1 islight sleep where a person drifts in and out of sleep and is easily awakened. At this Stage, eye movements and muscle activities slow and people mayexperience sudden muscle contractions preceded by a falling sensation. In Stage2, brain waves slow down, occasional bursts of rapid brain waves occur, and eyemovements stop. In Stage 3, extremely slow brainwaves (delta waves) are mixedwith smaller and faster waves. Stage 4 predominantly has slow brainwaves or delta waves. It is in the deep sleep Stages (3 and 4) that there are no eye ormuscle activities. In REM sleep, breathing is irregular, rapid, and shallow. Eyes appear to move fast and brain waves have activity levels similar to anormal waking state. Most dreams occur in this stage. These sleep Stages move cyclically from Stage 1 to REM with an average cycle taking about 90 to 110minutes. The first sleep cycles usually have short REM and long deep sleepstages but as sleep progresses there are longer REM periods.

Howdoes this information help to reset sleep schedules? First, we realize that to reset sleep patterns, we are talking about resetting the biological circadianrhythm. Sudden changes in sleep schedules will not reset the circadian rhythm. A first step to reset the rhythm will be to set a bedtime that is natural tofall asleep. Next, make bedtime 15 minutes earlier each day Or, for those whoseoriginal bedtime is very late, move bedtime earlier by 2 to 3 hours each night. Avoid naps and ensure there is consistency all week long (weekends included). When awaking, exposure to bright light and exercise will likely help to fix thenew rhythm. Once a new sleep pattern is established, rigidly maintain it for 2to 3 weeks to ensure reset of the rhythm. If however, sleep difficultiespersist and appear to be non-normative, consult a physician to identify if thesleep difficulties are related to other physical or emotional healthdifficulties.