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Transitioning from Wake to Sleep

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How to survive on fragmented sleep

Our bodies function on many different time cycles (seasonal, monthly, weekly, daily). The daily cycle is referred to as a circadian rhythm (cira “about” diem “day). There are many types of circadian rhythms, including daily fluctuations in body temperature, blood pressure, alertness, and melatonin. Our sleep-wake cycle is an essential circadian rhythm that serves as the foundation for our daily well-being. The sleep-wake cycle is approximately 24 hours. However, for most people, their natural cycle is shorter or longer than 24 hours. Here are 4 tips to help maintain a regular and robust circadian sleep-wake rhythm.

  1. Help your body synchronize to a regular 24-hour cycle by maintaining regular bed and wake times. Minimizing fluctuations of bed and wake times to less than half an hour (even on weekends!) allows your body to naturally anticipate and prepare for wake and sleep.
  2. In addition to a regular rhythm, a robust rhythm involves maximizing the difference between the peak (daytime alertness) and trough (sleep) of your day. Resist the impulse to nap or stay inactive during the day. Instead, maximize your activity during the day through exercise, outdoor activities, and by limiting daytime napping.
  3. Synchronize your body’s master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, to external environmental cues by limiting light exposure at night and obtaining bright outdoor light exposure earlier in the day.
  4. Be mindful of rhythm “disrupters” that can delay your natural sleep-wake inclinations. Avoid heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime and limit caffeine to earlier in the day. Monitor the effects of stimulating activities such as exercise, media, or work in the hours before bed. If you find increased physical or mental arousal associated with these activities, move them to your active/alert portion of the day.

Natalie Dautovich

Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., is the National Sleep Foundation's Environmental Scholar. She is also appointed at Virginia Commonwealth University as an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Department of Psychology. She received her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Florida and completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of South Florida. Dr. Dautovich’s research focuses on behavioral sleep medicine and geropsychology. Specifically, she studies sleep and behavioral rhythms such as daily routines across the adult lifespan. She has published articles, book chapters, and a handbook on sleep and health and presented her research at national conferences.

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