This year, the Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday, and that mid-week day off is undoubtedly messing with your travel plans -- but it could also be affecting a key part of a healthy life: your sleep.
Nearly a third of American workers say they get fewer than six hours of sleep a night, and while we don’t expect that to stop anyone from celebrating Independence Day, there are a few ways to combat the effects of skimping on sleep to salute the grand old flag.
The big show can't start until it's dark out, but for some, that could mean delaying bedtime on the night of the Fourth. "There's a tendency to stay up late on your day off," Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H, a sleep researcher and neurology instructor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "The problem is you have to get up early for work the next day, so you're going to have insufficient sleep that night." "If you do stay up," she says, "[still] try to get an adequate amount of sleep to keep your body's sleep balance in line." If you can only swing six or seven hours, get outside for some bright light first thing in the morning, she says, which can help put your <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/10/daylight-saving-time-2012-time-change_n_1332869.html" target="_hplink">circadian rhythms back on a normal schedule</a>. Even if you've committed to hitting the hay at an early hour, the fireworks could still keep you up from the noise, Baron notes, leaving you feeling less refreshed the next day. <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/the-sleep-environment" target="_hplink">Try earplugs or white noise</a>, the National Sleep Foundation recommends, even if it's just the whirring of a fan or air conditioner. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cedwardmoran/542701018/" target="_hplink">tsuacctnt</a></em>
While those hot dogs and hamburgers are tempting, be careful not to over-indulge too close to bedtime. "We don't recommend eating late at night -- don't go to bed hungry, but you shouldn't have a large meal," says Baron. "The biggest concern I'd have is heartburn and indigestion." Lying down too quickly after scarfing down a big meal can encourage stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus. Chronic heartburn sufferers know all too well that <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/gerd/managing/sleep-tips-for-people-with-gerd.aspx" target="_hplink">this discomfort can disrupt sleep</a>, but even if you don't usually experience heartburn, it's a good idea to skip any super-late second helpings. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rubbermaid/3674361459/" target="_hplink">Rubbermaid Products</a></em>
Americans buy more than <a href="http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/9-in10-will-watch-super-bowl-at-home-most-will-spend-the-same-or-less-on-food-and-bev/" target="_hplink">63 million cases of beer</a> in the two weeks surrounding July 4, according to The Neilsen Company. (For comparison's sake, the two weeks around the Super Bowl only see 49 million cases sold). You might think that a cold beer would help you nod off after the hot day, and it might, initially, says Baron. But "in the second half of the night, as your body metabolizes it, it causes <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/sleep-stages-what-happens-during-sleep_n_1297941.html" target="_hplink">REM sleep</a> to rebound," she warns, which can cause those strange, post-drinking dreams that wake you up. Alcohol also causes what's called sleep fragmentation, meaning you wake up more often during the early-morning hours, or wake up early and can't get back to sleep at all, Baron explains. She recommends teetotaling at least two hours before bed, and considering cutting down on alcohol throughout the day. One good way to do so is to alternate alcoholic drinks with water, she says, which will also save you some calories. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lachlanhardy/6224897923/" target="_hplink">Lachlan Hardy</a> </em>
The Day Off
If you're a night owl, you'll likely be tempted to stay up later than usual for a Tuesday night, given Wednesday's holiday, and possibly again on Wednesday depending on how you plan to celebrate. It could also be tempting to sleep later than usual on Wednesday morning, in an attempt to make up for some of the sleep you may have already missed out on this week. "Pyschologicaly, it's nice to have a break mid-week," says Baron. But in both cases, you could be stuck spending the next couple of days trying to get back on track for your work-week sleep schedule, says Baron, and, before you know it, it's the weekend again, when many people experience what's come to be known as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/social-jet-lag-weekend-harm-health_n_1507396.html" target="_hplink">social jet lag</a>. "In the short term, it's a balancing act," says Baron. You may be able to catch up a little bit this week, or you might feel groggy when it comes time to get up for work Thursday morning, she says. Most experts recommend trying as much as possible to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day -- even on weekends and holidays.
The sky-high temps outside aren't unique to the Fourth, but there's no ignoring the recent heat wave. "It is definitely difficult to sleep in a hot environment," says Baron. She recommends sleeping in light clothing, kicking snuggly pets out of the bed and even keeping a small ice pack in the freezer than you can take to bed with you if you really can't get relief. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends using a fan (which has the added benefit of providing some comforting white noise), <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/how-sleep-comfortably-through-hot-summer-nights" target="_hplink">keeping blinds and windows closed during the day</a>, taking a shower before bed or sleeping on the ground floor (if possible) since heat rises. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/softestthing/7370435792/" target="_hplink">bokeh burger</a></em>
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