A Sleep Expert’s Shut-Eye Setback: Join Dr. Goldstein’s Challenge

March 07, 2017 6:00 AM

Even sleep specialists have a hard time turning off the smartphone at night. One neurologist is challenging herself to get her habits in line — and you can join in.

Cathy Goldstein, M.D., tells patients how to improve their sleep hygiene every day. The neurologist at Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Center knows there is evidence behind the tips she gives, including turning off electronics before bed.

SEE ALSO: 5 Tips for Better Sleep (Counting Sheep Not Required)

But she’s only human.

“I always talk about why you aren’t getting optimal sleep if you keep devices right next to your bed, but I must admit I, too, am guilty of charging my smartphone next to my bed,” she says.

Delaying the body clock

Goldstein, like many of us, sometimes finds herself checking her work email and mindlessly scrolling through social media in the evening, even though she knows light exposure will trick her body into thinking it isn’t time for bed.

Melatonin, the hormone that tells your body when to fall asleep, is suppressed when you expose your body to bright light — especially blue light from electronics like computers, tablets and TVs.

SEE ALSO: Want to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions? Get More Sleep

“Not only the light, but also the mental activation is also a factor,” Goldstein says, “because your brain is still going if you’re reading work emails, or if you see something stressful online, that’s going to disturb your sleep. Instead, we should be spending that last hour slowing down and preparing for sleep. Our mind isn’t equipped to go from 60 mph to zero.”

The internal clock, or circadian rhythm, was made to handle natural light. When your circadian phase shifts later because of bright nighttime light, it also makes it harder to wake up in the morning.

“I plan to wake up and work out each morning, but sometimes I do find myself hitting the snooze button,” Goldstein says. “It’s really difficult to wake up refreshed if you’ve stayed up too late looking at a screen.”

The challenge

To get back on track, Goldstein is starting a sleep hygiene challenge March 13. It ends March 17, which is World Sleep Day.

The rules:

  • Don’t keep your smartphone in the bedroom.

  • Use a regular alarm clock to wake up.

  • Each morning, document how rested you feel and whether it was easy to get out of bed.

Join in

Studies have shown that people who get adequate sleep have lots of advantages in addition to increased alertness and better cardiovascular, mental and metabolic health. It’s easier to make healthy eating choices and exercise, you can improve your social interactions, and you’ll be better able to harness qualities of productivity like focus and motivation.

But you don't have to go it alone. Starting Monday, March 13, join Dr. Goldstein in establishing better sleep habits, and check the Michigan Medicine Facebook page or Instagram page for a daily tip to enhance your sleep.

Let us know how you did! Comment on Facebook, or post a tweet or an Instagram with the hashtag #GoBlueSleep, and we’ll share some of the responses in a future post.