Many of us will stay up late this Sunday night to watch the Super Bowl (It’s projected to end around 10:30 p.m.). Even though we’ll be cheering on the couch past the time we’re normally in our bed, those job, school, and family obligations will still require most of us to wake up early on Monday.
The good news: it’s possible to avoid cheating yourself on sleep while catching the big game.
First, it’s important to understand how sleep is controlled. Sleep is regulated by two processes: the homeostatic sleep drive (or sleep need), and the circadian rhythm. Your sleep need builds up the longer you’ve been awake, so if you’re sleep-deprived you’ll be extra tired.
The circadian rhythm is our internal timing system that promotes sleep during the nighttime and wakefulness during the daytime. Because our eyelids block light out and let light in and we sleep with our eyes closed, our chosen sleep schedule can move our internal clock.
Light is the biggest factor that modifies our circadian rhythm. Lots of light in the evening can make us more of a night owl, while bright light in the morning can make us more of a morning lark.
Even if you’re not a football fan, if you’re one of the more than 70 million Americans who exist in a constant state of sleep deprivation, try these tips to get a better night’s sleep:
- Keep your bedtime and wake-up time consistent for the rest of the weekend.
And every night, for that matter. Imagine you stay up til 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and sleep in until 9 a.m. Come Sunday night, you’ll have pushed your body clock later. It’ll be hard to fall asleep on time, and hard to wake up earlier than 9 on Monday morning. We call this shift in circadian rhythm social jet lag, because it’s like you flew from the west coast to the east coast overnight. These shifts in schedule and the associated sleep loss can negatively affect our performance and even our metabolism.
- Take a nap on Sunday.
Our circadian clock is most sensitive to light in the early morning and late evening, so you still don’t want to sleep in, even when you know you’ll be staying up late. It’s best to wake up at your regular weekday time on Sunday morning and then take a nap in the middle of the day. Try taking up to an hour-long nap sometime between noon and 2 p.m. on Sunday to avoid shifts in your circadian clock.
- Reduce your light exposure during the game.
One of the reasons we feel sleepy at night is the secretion of melatonin, which is timed by the circadian system. Light suppresses the melatonin.
The circadian system is especially susceptible to blue light, emitted by TVs and electronic devices. Researchers have found that even using a tablet for nighttime reading suppressed melatonin levels and made it more difficult to fall asleep at night and increased morning sleepiness.
Your best Super Bowl bet is to watch the game on a TV mounted across the room in a dimmed environment. Avoid watching up close and personal on a computer or tablet to avoid the blue light.
- Watch what you eat and drink.
Eating within 2-3 hours of bedtime can worsen acid reflux which will disrupt your sleep. In particular, fatty and spicy foods can be particularly disruptive, so restrict the heavy snacks to your pre-game celebration and calm it down once the game starts.
The same goes for alcohol. Even though a cocktail can help people fall asleep more easily, sleep in the second half of the night deteriorates significantly. Limit your alcohol consumption and switch to water after halftime.
Take the next step:
- Read Dr. Goldstein’s advice to athletes about how sleep affects performance
- Learn more about the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center
- Learn about Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Michigan Health System
Cathy Goldstein, M.D., M.S., is Assistant Professor of Neurology in the U-M Sleep Disorders Center. Dr. Goldstein treats circadian rhythm sleep disorders and sleep-disordered breathing. Her research interests include the relationship between fertility and sleep, as well as how circadian rhythm disruption can negatively impact overall health.
The University of Michigan’s multidisciplinary neuroscience team is made up of more than 70 nationally recognized neurologists, neuroanesthesiologists and neurosurgeons. Leading the way in brain, spine and nervous system care for close to 100 years; patients have access to services that can be found at only a handful of places as well as innovative treatments with the latest research. Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan Health System have been recognized by U.S. News & World Report numerous times for excellence in patient care.