Sleep Deprivation in New York

Do You Find it Hard to Sleep in New York?

Old, sepia photographs of New York City from just a hundred years ago show a landscape of buildings only a few stories tall. It’s a shocking contrast to the monoliths of today; but evidence that we built from the ground up. It seems obvious, but from the way New Yorkers manage their lives these days, you’d think we build top-down. Sleep is fundamental to a functional life. It’s a fact.

A big city—New York City in particular—can be a perfect storm of conditions that prevent or discourage habits conducive to sleeping well. This is, of course, a clinical way to say it might not be your fault; or then again, it might. It’s not your fault if the train’s too loud, or the streetlights pour into your room at night. But it’s your fault if you indulge a lifestyle of late night blue screens, or a corporate culture that holds downtime in contempt.

New York City is Loud

In the course of just one year, 140,000 New Yorkers filed complaints with the city’s 311 complaint system. More than a third of these were simply in regards to noise caused by music or parties.

For a good night’s sleep, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends a bedroom noise level of less than 30 A-weighted decibels (dB(A)). A quiet suburb sits at about 50; a noisy city, at 80. Sounds of 40 can wake someone, and even low levels of noise can damage hearing if sustained over time. The young, the ill, and the elderly suffer most from such interruptions. Aircraft, traffic, and construction are big offenders.

Things can be done. You can install barriers to sound, like double-paned windows or acoustical tiling if you own the place; thick carpets and drapes if you rent. White noise (and other types of background noise) can smooth over sound spikes from outside. Then, of course, there are earplugs.

New York City is Bright

The journal of Science Advances recently published a world atlas of light pollution, which shows that 99% of mainland Americans live in areas categorized as “light polluted”. To make things worse, NYC is switching its streetlights to LED bulbs—they’re energy efficient, but they’re brighter. The ramifications go beyond depriving children of starry skies: it means poor sleep, and less of it. This year, the American Academy of Neurology presented that people under city lighting are more susceptible to sleep disorders, and report daytime fatigue.

Few people would compare us to plants, but like them, we’re biologically tied into light cycles. For millions of years, light and dark came at regular intervals, like clockwork. Our internal rhythms evolved around that clock. When the sun goes down, our body releases melatonin (a hormone), and we settle down. But now, we’re awash in light—long past sundown. We sleep less, and ailments can follow.

Try the Big Apple in Smaller Bites

We can’t just blame these problems on the unrelenting march of technology and infrastructure. We need to think of what we nurture, as well as nature. Consider our modern habits at work and play, computer screens, and television. They glow with a blue light frequency, the same as daylight; our eyes are built to pick up on that. We stare at screens all day at work, we stare at them for fun at night. And our bodies wait for permission to rest.

New York City is the very symbol of capital and industry. The local work schedule can wreak havoc with regular sleep, and certain workplace attitudes just don’t help. Prevailing corporate wisdom glorifies the 80-hour work week and the five-hour slumber. It’s so bad that even in schools of business, they have begun to refute a prevailing wisdom that’s obviously at odds with healthy, productive habits.

More than that, bad sleeping habits put people in jeopardy. If we build too great a sleep deficit, our thinking gets clouded. After a certain number of consecutive hours away, the brain can take executive control and just switch us off. A cognitive state can result that’s like legal drunkenness. Accidents can happen.

Changing Your Behavior to Sleep

The solution rests in making a more active effort to rest. For all of its bright lights, cacophony, and infamous “city that never sleeps” moniker, quality sleep in New York City is still possible. There are the aforementioned options of reducing sounds, utilizing white noise, and using blackout curtains; but changing your own behavioral patterns – especially when it comes to sleep – is essential.

There are plenty of little things you can do to better your sleep quality, many of which can be achieved through sleep hygiene (click here to learn more). Also remember that the blue light coming from your computer or smart phone screen can be lessened by dimming the brightness or installing a blue light filter (f.lux is a popular one for computer screens), and this will help your brain realize it’s time to ready itself for sleep.

Finally, just because you live in a high-energy city doesn’t mean you have to follow its reputation. Set yourself a time to go to bed and a time to wake up every day. The more you stick to this schedule, the better your body will adjust to these new rules.

If you find you’re still struggling to sleep, however, it is strongly advised that you seek the help of a sleep specialist. There may be other factors, mental or physical, that could be affecting your sleeping patterns. Get in contact with New York sleep specialist Dr. Mayank Shukla to find the answers to your sleep-deprived woes.

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