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Summer slumber: Sleep doctors offer strategies for getting better rest

FARGO – The sun stays up longer in the summer, but that doesn’t mean you should, too.

“I think we all get so excited about the summer that we don’t want to miss a minute,” says Dr. Seema Khosla, chief medical officer and sleep specialist at the North Dakota Center for Sleep. “I think it’s a challenge because then we have to force ourselves to create our own sleep environment. It’s a matter of making our sleep a priority and then really setting ourselves up for success.”

The lure of longer days, warmer nights and more social activities makes summer an especially challenging time of year to slumber sufficiently.

But without enough sleep, the body and brain can’t recharge.


As little as one week of inadequate sleep (less than six hours a night) can alter the activity of hundreds of human genes, causing effects on metabolism, inflammation and long-term disease risk to the body and brain, according to sleep researchers at the University of Surrey in England.

And if that’s not enough to convince sleep skeptics that Z’s are important, researches from the University of Rochester and New York University found that sleep detoxes the brain in mice and could do the same in humans.

But how much sleep does a person need? The number of hours depends on age, says Sanford Health’s Dr. Arveity Setty, a sleep medicine specialist.

Normal sleep duration is around one-third of the 24-hour period, he says, and in general, adults should aim for 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep; school-aged children, 9 to 11 hours; 11 to 12 hours for toddlers; and 15 to 16 hours for newborns.

“Sleep is very important for resting the brain, as it has been working for two-thirds of the 24 hours,” Setty says. “Unlike in adults where sleep deprivation will lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, children will present with hyperactivity and focusing issues and worsening school performances.”

Shifting back

Summertime is particularly challenging for parents who need to transition their kids back to school-year sleep hours.

Khosla recommends starting to shift a child’s bedtime one to two weeks before school starts by having them gradually go to bed earlier.

It makes mornings less miserable, she says, and it works for her children.

“I’m really strict about it,” Khosla says. “I’m the mean mom in the neighborhood since my kids are in bed while the other kids are outside playing. You either battle it the first week of school and they’re miserable, or you battle it the week before.”

And on weekends, parents should strive to keep kids on their weekday sleep schedule.

“We lose all of that ground. If you let kids sleep until 10 a.m. on the weekends, it makes getting them up early Monday that much harder,” Khosla says.

But it’s important to allow children to enjoy summer, too, she says.

“Our summer is so limited. I don’t think it’s fair to just expect our kids to miss out on the fun,” Khosla says.

For example, on Thursday nights, she lets her children stay up a little later since she works from home Fridays and they don’t have to be up for day care.

“Have a plan and be realistic, especially with teenagers,” she says.

Adults, too, need to keep their sleep on track in the summer. Khosla and Setty share tips for sleeping soundly in the summer:

  • Power down.

Cell phones, tablets, televisions and computers should all be off at bedtime, Khosla says.

Children and adolescents shouldn’t have electronics in their rooms.

If adults must use technology at night, adjust the settings to dim the screen’s glow.

  • Use a real alarm clock.

Khosla often hears people say they can’t turn their phone off at night because it’s their alarm clock. Purchase a cheap alarm clock, she says.

“With a lot of us, I think we feel compelled to be on call for work,” she says.

“Even adolescents feel on call for their friends, like, ‘Oh gosh, if I don’t answer they’re going to think I’m mad at them.’ ”

  • Create a calm sleep environment. 

Besides eliminating light from electronics, Khosla says to keep other lights dim.

Fans help keep rooms cool in the summer – an ideal sleep environment is between 68 and 72 degrees, Setty says.

Light-blocking sleep masks can help make sleep more comfortable, too.

  • Think ahead. 

A good night’s rest starts hours before bedtime, Setty says.

Exercise and large meals should be complete two hours before bedtime.

Caffeine should be cut off five hours before bedtime, and television should be shut off 30 minutes prior to bedtime.

Avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption and smoking help ensure a restful night, too.

  • Adjust sleep gradually. 

“In the summer we have become habituated to stay up a little later,” Khosla says.

For example, if you typically stay up until midnight and try to sleep at 10 p.m., you’re not going to fall asleep right away.

She suggests waking up at the target rise time no matter what so you’ll be tired that night and more likely to fall asleep earlier.

  • Set a time to leave the office. 

Working late can interrupt sleep, Khosla says.

Set a time to leave and stick to it so your sleep schedule stays consistent. Most extra work can wait until the morning.

  • Use sleep aids with caution. 

Khosla doesn’t usually advocate for sleep aids. She suggests exploring why sleep is difficult before turning to the aid of medicine.

If your doctor prescribes a sleep aid, make sure you have an exit strategy, she says.

“You don’t want to be on Ambien for 60 years,” she says. “It’s a lot harder to put down your phone, dim the lights, meditate and go to bed. Behavioral therapy is effective.”

  • Stay hydrated. 

Drinking water throughout the day can help people stay hydrated at night.

It’s difficult to say how much each person should drink before bed, but Setty suggests half a liter to a liter.

For some people, drinking water can be disruptive to sleep if they have to use the bathroom frequently, Khosla says.

For them, she recommends increasing water intake in the evening and then tapering it off before bed.

  • Transition for travel. 

Vacations can alter sleep schedules, especially if you travel across time zones.

It usually takes a person at least one day for each zone changed to adjust. A trip from Fargo to Europe, for example, crosses at least six time zones.

In that case, Khosla says a sleep aid can help travelers rest on a long flight so they more easily adjust to local time.

Anna G. Larson

Anna G. Larson is a features reporter with The Forum who writes a weekly column featuring stylish people in Fargo-Moorhead. Larson graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in journalism and joined The Forum in July 2012. She's a Fargo native who enjoys travel, food, baking, fashion, animals, coffee and all things Midwestern. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @msannagrace 

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