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  • Cameron Oglesby

Why a night owl schedule can be unhealthy for humans

Most people in the US sleep from around 11 PM to 7 AM, but many don’t. Or can’t. They fall asleep and wake up hours later than what’s normal for everyone else. And that can be bad for their physical health, emotional outlook, cognitive function, self-esteem, social relationships, and safety.

For some people, night owl sleeping hours are biological. For others, from force of habit. Either way, in addition to the physical effects of cumulative sleep loss, they live somewhat curtailed lives.

They lose most of their mornings not just by rising late, but also by being groggy afterwards. They get stressed by having to jam too many responsibilities into too few remaining daytime hours. And they have too little time left for social interactions, with loneliness and depression as possible results.

If this sounds like you, there are a number of ways to reset your biological clock:

· Get the right kind of light at the right time of day. You’ve probably heard about avoiding screens and blue light at night, but that’s only part of the story. Blue light has a disproportionate effect on the body receptors that set your biological clock. It also suppresses melatonin, the hormone that signals darkness. So you should start blocking blue light about three hours before you want to fall asleep – say, 8 o’clock for an 11 o’clock bedtime. Glasses with orange lenses are good at that, and if you already wear glasses (hopefully with a coating that filters blue light), you can get clip-ons. What’s even better, especially at this time of year, is to go outdoors to watch the sunset. The wavelength, intensity, and solar angle of the setting sun’s light will prime your body for a more natural bedtime.

· Keep nighttimes dark. Photoreceptors are especially receptive to light at night. Even brief, sudden light can jolt them into resetting your body clock and your sleep rhythms.

· Morning light helps you wake up on time. A half-hour of daylight no earlier than 90 minutes before your current waking time helps ease you into wakefulness earlier. So if you currently wake up at, say, 11 AM, set your alarm for 9:30, and open the blinds or the shades. Better yet, sit by a window with the shades open and the lights on while you spend an hour at the computer. As you start waking earlier naturally, keep setting your alarm earlier in 15-minute increments until you’re waking when you want to.

· Ask your doctor about low-dose melatonin. Low dose (0.3 or 0.5 mg) melatonin, taken about six hours before you currently fall asleep, can help move your bedtime to where you want it to be.

· Don’t overstimulate yourself too late in the day. Move your evening routine, including dinner, earlier. Drink less caffeine, earlier. Exercise mornings and afternoons, not at night. Eat breakfast earlier. Don’t take long or late-day naps. And get as much daylight as you can during the day.

Sleeping patterns are only one of the ways in which people are different from each other. Yet, too many senior care agencies, with one-size-fits-all care packages, fail to take these individual differences into account. That’s not the way we at Senior Insights work. Before we recommend any care at all, we conduct a thorough three-part assessment of a potential client's physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial needs with the clients and their families. Only then do we create a custom-designed holistic coordinated senior care management plan built around each client’s individual priorities, values, preferences, schedule, hobbies and interests, and trade-offs you’re willing to make. Then, rather than keep that plan static, our monthly registered nurse visits include mini-needs assessments, to make sure each client’s care matches their needs as they change over time.

So if any aspect of senior care is keeping you awake nights, please contact us to learn what difference our approach can make. It could be a real wake-up call.

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