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Maximizing Sleep During Summer Travel

My sleep was cut short more than once this week when I awoke at 4:40 am to the chorus of birds outside my window. After awakening to the joyful early morning chirps, I started thinking about the workday ahead. Before I knew it, I had to get up and start the day.

My disrupted sleep is a reminder that our sleep occurs in a broader context, some of which is outside our control. Regardless of all of my healthy sleep behaviors: following a routine bedtime schedule, maintaining a dark and cool bedroom environment, and turning off electronics in advance of bedtime, my sleep was still affected by outside forces

Despite engaging in healthy sleep behaviors, I awoke due to the little creatures inhabiting the many trees in my neighborhood. I then stayed awake due to thoughts about work. Beyond ourselves, our social relationships, family, and neighborhood can have an impact on our sleep. Even more broadly speaking, societal factors such as school policies, workplace policies, the economy, the political system, and cultural beliefs about sleep can serve as both protective and risk factors for our sleep.

Going forward, there are many avenues to promote healthy sleep while limiting the negative impact of those inevitable sleep disrupters. We can make changes in our own individual behavior to improve our sleep. We can maximize the positive influence of these systems on our sleep. For example, prioritizing sleep and modeling a healthy bedtime routine as a parent, can serve to nurture a healthy attitude towards sleep in your child.

While we can’t ask the birds to wait an hour before beginning their morning song, we can work around their schedule, and other unchangeable occurrences, in order to maintain healthy sleep.

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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