Have trouble sleeping in summer? NJ doc says you’re not alone
Kids are getting ready to go on summer vacation. Adults cut their work schedules short on Fridays to start long weekends. The sun is out for close to 15 hours a day.
It can be hard for some New Jerseyans to wind down and get quality sleep during the summer months, according to Dr. Matthew Scharf, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School assistant professor and medical director of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center.
The doctor said consistency is key for those who might have trouble sleeping this time of year. Establish a regular bedtime and wake time, limit daytime napping and nighttime screen usage, and keep the bedroom quiet, dark, and cool.
"When people start switching back and forth, do it now and then the weekday comes and now you have to get up at 8:00 in the morning, and all those kinds of shifts, those make it very hard to maintain a good sleep," Scharf said.
Scharf conceded this may be tough for younger people — teenagers who prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, for instance — or even for early birds, who may find that the sun has not yet gone down by the time they want to turn in.
Neither of those approaches is necessarily wrong, Scharf said, but he stressed that behavioral decisions tend to impact sleep quality far more than biological ones.
He cited a Japanese study on seasonal variations in length of sleep that concluded there was only an average 15-minute difference between winter and summer.
"It seems like that those sort of natural, biological fluctuations that occur do exist, but they're probably going to be relatively small," Scharf said.
Scharf said he does not use the word "discipline" too often to consult patients at the Sleep Disorders Center, but such a mindset may help the sleep-deprived.
Or it may not. Scharf gave the example of one patient who did everything in a consistent fashion and got eight hours of shut-eye a night, but was still exhausted, and was eventually diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.
Such hurdles are common, the doctor said.
"For example, people will not be able to sleep at night, so they'll sleep more during the day, and then they'll have more difficulty going to sleep that night," Scharf said.
If all else fails, Scharf recommends contacting a facility like the Sleep Disorders Center to enroll in a sleep study.
"When you start to see things where, either you can't normalize it on your own by just doing some of the basics, or if people are doing those and are still having a problem, then that's a particularly important reason to talk about it with your doctor," he said.