As we make our way into summer, and as the days continue to get longer, the prolonged daylight may mean less nighttime sleep for some.
“In the summer months there is almost kind of a mania that kind of develops here in Alaska,” said Dr. Robert Lada, neurologist with the Alaska Sleep Disorder Center in Anchorage. “People become more awake, more alert and they are starting to do more. They are involved in more projects outside.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, 27.4 percent of Alaska adults reported not getting enough sleep in 2008 and 2009.
Alaskans are at a greater risk of experiencing sleep disorders because of the increased daylight in the summer and lack of daylight in the winter.
Lada says we spend about a third of our life in our dreams. He explained that for every one hour of sleep that is good sleep, we then have two good hours of wakefulness.
Lada likened the phenomenon to having a credit card. He explained, like credit card debt, people similarly accumulate wakefulness debt. For every two hours awake, one may have to pay that debt back by getting their sleep credit down to zero again.
“We still need the same amount of sleep to function. That’s a reason why we have some of the highest coffee consumption rates in the United States per capita because we are sleep deprived,” Lada said.
The 24-hour cycle that determines our sleep and wake periods control our internal clock and certain levels of light determine which hormones are produced to make us sleepy, like melatonin.
“At night with the light hitting eyes, then melatonin production is delayed. So it waits and waits until finally you go to sleep,” Lada said.
That could lead to sleep deprivation, Lada said.
“We will have a change in our ability to react, so our reaction time starts to decrease,” Lada said. “If someone is sleep deprived on a regular basis, their reaction time, driving for example, will be not unlike somebody who’s had a couple beers.”
In addition to motor accidents, Lada, whose medical background is stroke medicine, said sleep deprivation can also lead to weight gain and long-term illnesses like heart disease. He said that 80 percent of people who have had a stroke have sleep apnea.
For a healthy sleep cycle, doctors say you need at least seven to eight hours of sleep, avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before you hit the hay. It is also important to make sure to set a schedule, bed time is the same time every night and rise and shine at the same time every morning seven days a week.
“If you’re falling asleep and waking up without an alarm consistently, now you made your sleep debt and now you’re sleeping the amount that you need and that should translate into your normal work day,” Lada said.
Doctors also say that a good way to avoid sleep deprivation is to understand what normal sleep is.
Normal sleep is dozing off about 15 to 20 minutes after lying down to bed. If you’re falling asleep in two minutes that is a sign of sleep deprivation.