Are you one of the 50 to 70 million Americans who suffer from sleep disorders? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 1 in 3 American Adults do not get the amount of sleep they need to sustain a healthy lifestyle. And the stress of every day life can make the problem even worse.
The NIH says adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to stay in good mental and physical health.
Lack of sleep very often leads to stress, injury and impedes overall wellness. Here are seven things you could and should do to get a good night’s sleep:
1. Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. I know, this isn’t an easy task when you’re trying to juggle work and family, but sleep needs to take precedence over inessential activities. It’s important to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. This might make a major dent in your social life at first but being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and creating or maintaining a sleep schedule is key to getting restful slumber.
2. Don’t sleep too much OR too little.
The Mayo Clinic recommends getting no more than eight hours of sleep each night (or day for some people who work at night) but the ideal number for a healthy adult is around seven hours. Most people don’t need more than eight hours in bed to achieve this goal but, if you’re someone who tosses and turns before reaching REM sleep, you may have to do a little extra work at first.
If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of hitting the sheets, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing like reading (no electronics!!!!). Repeat as needed. Your body will get used to your schedule eventually and this process will become unnecessary.
3. Stay away from caffeine, alcohol and nicotine right before bedtime
The Sleep Health Foundation recommends staying away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day and, if you can’t avoid nicotine completely, make sure it have your last cigarette a few hours before you go to bed. As you know, caffeine is a stimulant and although it may be a lifesaver when the sun is rising, it can be a barrier to sleep. Caffeine’s effects reach peak levels in your body about an hour after you ingest it and generally last anywhere from four to six hours.
Obviously tea, coffee and cola drinks contain caffeine but drinks in general should be avoided for an hour before bedtime so you won’t have to get up and use the restroom during the night. Steer clear of chocolate late in the day as it contains caffeine and, again, try to remember that nicotine is also a stimulant and can disrupt a healthy sleeping schedule.
4. Exercise regularly but not too late.
Those who get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every day may see an improvement in sleep quality that same night, says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital. “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality.” She adds, however, that it may be wise to exercise at least 2 hours prior to going to bed because, “(T)here’s still some debate as to what time of day you should exercise. I encourage people to listen to their bodies to see how well they sleep in response to when they work out.”
Why should you not exercise later at night? Well, there are actually two reasons. First, physical activity raises your body temperature and signals to the body that it’s time to wake up, kind of like taking a hot shower in the morning. Second, exercise releases endorphins, the chemicals that trigger brain activity and keep you awake. It usually takes an hour or two for the body and brain to wind down after exercise so keep that in mind when scheduling your day and night.
5. Make your bedroom “sleep-friendly”.
Now that we’ve talked about the “when”, let’s tackle the “where”. Your sleep environment can have a huge impact on the quality of rest you get. Is your bedroom “sleep friendly”? Here a some tips to help you get to YES:
Cool It Off
Ever feel too hot or sweaty to sleep? The American Academy for Sleep Medicine states that a lower body temperature means a better sleep. Most experts agree that the best room temperature for slumber is between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
If leaving the air conditioner on all night seems extreme to you, try a ceiling fan or open the windows for a natural cooling down. Cooling mattress pads can also help lower your sleeping temperature.
Keep It Dark
Melatonin is the natural hormone responsible for regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles. It’s a medical fact that exposure to electrical light before and during sleep delays melatonin’s release which in turn raises your body temperature and triggers wakefulness. Studies show that even dim lights have a negative effect on restfulness, proving darkness is important for deep, restorative sleep and maintenance of a healthy sleep clock.
Natural light, too, can impact your sleep so if you must sleep past sunrise, blackout shades are a helpful solution. If blocking light isn’t possible, a comfortable sleep mask will do the trick..
Keep It Quiet
It’s no secret that sound can keep a person from getting restful sleep. Living in a noisy environment that is outside your control, like a busy city or a with a partner that snores, can negatively affect deep sleep cycles, even if the sleeper doesn’t remember waking up. I live with a partner with sleep apnea and, until he started sleeping with a CPAP, a full night’s rest was nearly impossible. Methods to combat these factors include white noise machines and earplugs. If you or your partner suffers from apnea, I heartily suggest the CPAP for EVERYONE’S well being!
Make It Comfy
Americans keep their mattresses an average of 10 years so take a look at your’s to see if your mattress shows deep impressions or severe wear and tear. Studies have found that replacing old mattresses with new after less than 10 years improved stress and reduced back pain for most people. When choosing a mattress go get the advice of a professional. Remember, as we age changes in weight and health mean differing needs so what worked for you ten years ago may have changed. Similarly, if you wake with aches and pains that diminish as the day goes on, your mattress may not be firm enough.
6. Keep electronics out of the room.
Falling asleep with the TV on may seem relaxing but in reality television actually harms sleep patterns. The sound and visuals keep your mind stimulated and the bright light prevents your body’s internal clock from letting you fall into proper sleep. In babies and little kids, television before bed is also associated with several sleep problems and often contributes to increased anxiety.
Try keeping your TV only in the living room. It may seem difficult at first but opting for less stimulating activities like reading or taking a bath is more conducive to rest. At the very least, turn off the TV at least an hour before bedtime to give your body and mind time to wind down.
And TV isn’t the only electronic that harms sleep. A sleep study found that the glow of computer screens may also have stimulating effects. And it’s not just the light that’s doing damage. Working or checking emails before bed increases stress and negative feelings so give yourself an hour or so before bed with no electronics, including your phone. If you’re having a hard time transitioning to this “screen ban” get a little help from one of the many “Do Not Disturb” apps available.
7. Try natural sleep aids.
As discussed above, melatonin is a hormone your brain makes naturally to control your sleep cycle. The body’s melatonin level begins to rise after sunset and stays high during the night. When it eventually drops as the sun rises, you wake up naturally. Because it stays active at night and disappears during the day, some refer to it as the “Dracula of Hormones”. Many factors can cause your body to produce far too little melatonin, including:
- Jet lag
- Shorter days, like in Winter
- Shift work that requires daylight sleep
- Negative feelings, anxiety
- Disrupted circadian rhythm (internal clock) issues
- Age-related decrease in melatonin production