Q: What can I do to improve my sleep? The stress, and perhaps excitement, of the holidays is getting to me and I have been feeling tired all the time. Actually, it is not uncommon for me to experience sleep difficulties. In the past, I have been prescribed a sleep aid and have also tried an over-the-counter sleep aid. They work, but I would prefer to simply get a good night’s rest without relying on a sleep aid, especially as a long-term solution. Is there anything I can do, naturally, to get better sleep? I find I am a better parent when I am well-rested and not sleep-deprived!
A: Sleep – we all need it but we do not all get enough of it. According to the American Sleep Association, 50-70 million individuals in the United States suffer from a sleep disorder with Insomnia being the most common specific sleep disorder. Approximately 30 percent of Americans report short-term insomnia and 10 percent report chronic insomnia. Sleep is important to our physical and mental health and it’s alarming to hear the number of individual’s who do not get adequate sleep each night. Sleep allows our body and brain to recharge and repair. It is imperative to our overall wellbeing and greatly impacts our daily functioning. Statistics from the American Sleep Association indicate 35.3 percent of adults, 37 percent of 20-39 year-olds, and 40 percent of 40-50 year-olds get less than seven hours of sleep each night.
Following are tips for healthy sleep hygiene…
- Maintain a routine. You should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, even on weekends. A regular sleep schedule prepares your body for, and allows it to maintain, it’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Get out of bed within five minutes of waking, regardless of the number of hours of sleep you got that night. If you have been getting less than eight hours of sleep per night, or are used to going to bed very late, start with your wake time and count backwards to a time that allows you your average number of hours of sleep per night. For example, if you have to wake up at 7:00am and are used to getting six hours of sleep, start going to bed around 1:00am and slowly add 15 minutes increments to your sleep schedule. So, you would be in by 12:45am, then 12:30am, then 12:15am, and so on until you are at a time that allows eight full hours of sleep.
- Bedroom aesthetics. Not surprisingly, your bedroom should be a place of comfort and quiet. For a good night’s sleep prepare your sleeping area with a comfortable mattress, sheets, pillows, etc. Additionally, a cooler temperature is more conducive to good sleep, and of course, low, or preferably no, light source – that means from the light fixtures in your bedroom and light from technology. Also, position your alarm clock so that you cannot count the minutes while you are laying in bed. Complete darkness and cool temperature are best for sleep.
- The bedroom is only for sleep and sex. No watching television or reading while in bed because doing so associates the bedroom, and bed, with wakefulness. One should refrain from using technology too close to bedtime as well. Our body is cued by our environment to naturally prepare itself for sleep. Exposure to unnatural light sources disrupts the body’s natural production of melatonin, thus impacting sleepiness, if you will. Nowadays, many tech items have a setting that allows for turning off light sources that impact melatonin production.
- No napping during the day – for obvious reasons. Napping during the day takes away from the amount of sleep you need and typically creates difficulty in falling asleep at bedtime.
- Don’t lay awake for longer than 10-15 minutes. No tossing and turning and lying awake just waiting to fall asleep. If you do not fall asleep within 10-15 minutes of laying down, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing such as reading a book. When you start to feel sleepy return to bed and attempt to fall asleep again.
- Avoid food, drink, and substances that may interfere with sleep. Stop consuming food and beverages at least two hours prior to bedtime, especially items that contain caffeine. Additionally, cigarettes and alcohol impact sleep quality. Some people think alcohol as a depressant helps sleep, but it does not; because it raises body temperature, it results in waking after 2-3 hours of sleep and being unable to return to sleep.
- Develop a bedtime routine. You have a bedtime routing for the kids because you know it helps get them prepared for sleep! Adults benefit from a bedtime routine too. Your bedtime routine should be calming and quiet, such as a warm bath or shower, or some type of relaxation, meditation, or reading. Avoid activity, especially high intensity exercise immediately prior to bed.