We have talked quite a bit over the past two weeks about the basics of sleep physiology, as well as how sleep deficiency impacts both your physical and mental health, as well as your performance and productivity. I thought that today we could review several strategies to help you get the sleep that your body requires.
Make Time for Sleep
The first thing that you need to do is to make sure that you allow yourself enough time to sleep. That sounds simple enough, but in our busy lives these days, sleep seems to be the first thing that we squeeze out of our schedule. Make sure that you, and your children, are not overscheduled. You should not only make time for enough sleep, but also make the time to wind down and relax prior to sleep.
Here are some other important strategies to use to improve your sleep habits:
- Try to maintain the same daily sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at near the same time every day, preferably within about 30 – 60 minutes. This includes weekends as well. Staying up more than an hour later, and sleeping in on the weekends can cause the same reaction as “jet lag” in your body. Children should definitely have a set bedtime, and a set bedtime routine prior to lights out.
- Use the hour prior to bed to wind down. Avoid strenuous exercise during this time period. Dim the lights. Avoid using a computer or staring at any screen during this time period. Remember that your natural production of melatonin depends on the decreasing light. During this hour before bed, do something that relaxes you, such as listening to music, reading a book, etc. Maybe take a hot bath or practice some relaxation techniques. Use the night shift setting on your smart phone to adjust the light from your phone in the evenings.
- Do not eat a heavy or large meal within 2 hours of bedtime. A light snack is fine if you want. Also avoid alcohol during this time period. Alcohol can make you feel drowsy, but it really interferes with the quality of your sleep if consumed too close to bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine or other stimulants for several hours prior to bedtime. Avoid nicotine, in any form, within at least a couple of hours prior to bedtime.
- Maintain a regular exercise program with some physical activity every day. Just remember, no strenuous exercise just before bed. A low impact walk after dinner is a great idea.
- Spend some time outside every day when possible.
- Try to keep your bedroom as dark as possible during sleep. If you need a dim night light, that is ok, but avoid any blue lights, or bright night lights. If you use a digital alarm clock, make sure you can turn off the lights, including the time, when you are sleeping. If you can’t turn the lights off, cover the clock with a cloth or put it in the drawer of your night stand. Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible during the night. Turn off phone notifications, except for emergencies.
- Control the temperature in your bedroom. Studies show that between 60-68 degrees is the ideal sleeping temperature.
- For adults, remember that naps do not replace lost night time sleep. Adults should not nap for more than 20 minutes a day, and if you do nap, it should be midafternoon, around 2-3 p.m.
- Preschool age children SHOULD nap. This helps promote healthy growth and development. It also helps them to sleep better at night. When children are overtired, they don’t sleep as well.
- Avoid “working” in your bed, such as using a laptop or tablet to read email, or work on presentations, or other activities like this. You want your body to associate the bed with sleep. You do not want to train your body to stay awake in bed.
- Children and teens should not have a television in their bedroom. Their desk and computer should ideally be in a separate room as well. Remove cell phones from their bedroom at night.
If you are a shift worker, or a teen who has an early school start, all of the above are even more important! If you have to wake up when it is dark outside, consider an alarm clock that gradually lights up the room during the 30 minutes prior to the alarm sounding. Keep the lights bright to maintain alertness during shift work hours.
I hope that these tips will help you on your way to getting a better night’s sleep, and improving your overall health.
Here is a link to “Your Guide to Healthy Sleep” provided by the National Institutes of Health https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/all-publications-and-resources/your-guide-healthy-sleep.
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Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip