Sleep is very important factor in mental and physical health. During deep sleep which is restorative sleep, is when the body makes cells to grow, replaces dying cells, and replaces cortisol which is released during stressful situations. Consequences of improper sleep are: fatigue, trouble concentrating, depression, impaired affective control (anger, irritability, crying spells, etc).
Fix a bedtime and an awakening time. Do not be one of those people who allow bedtime and awakening time to drift. The body “gets used” to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed. Even if you are tired or not working, going to bed and awakening at the same time is an essential component of good sleeping habits.
Upon wakening get a dose of sunlight outside, even a cloudy day provides enough sunlight to get you awake.
Avoid napping during the day. If you nap throughout the day, it is no wonder that you will not be able to sleep at night. The late afternoon for most people is a “sleepy time.” Many people will take a nap at that time. This is not a good thing to do, but if you do, limit the nap to 30-45 minutes. Naps usually make you feel worse because you do not get to a deep sleep.
Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime. Many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall, there is a stimulant or wake-up effect.
Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. This includes caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate, so be careful.
Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep.
Exercise regularly, but not right before bed. Regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within the 3 hours before bedtime, however, can decrease your ability to fall asleep. To be beneficial exercise must be aerobic, minimum of 3 times a week and a minimum of 30 minutes. The 30 minutes do not have to be consecutive, it can be broken up into 15 minute intervals.
Your Sleeping Environment
Meditate, pray or use candle concentration to clear your mind.
Use comfortable bedding. Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem, and make appropriate changes.
Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom IS the most conducive to sleep.
Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible.
Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body “know” that the bed is associated with sleeping.
Getting Ready For Bed
Try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep. Also, baked potato, cookies, bread, pasta, oatmeal, pretzels, and dry cereal.
Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Things such as yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, stretching, and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
Don’t take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a “worry period” during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues. If your mind is still racing once in bed, get up and write out thoughts, then return to bed.
Establish a pre-sleep ritual. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep. Keep your evening boring and quiet.
Get into your favorite sleeping position. If you don’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get up, go into another room, and read until sleepy.
Getting Up in the Middle of the Night
Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity, or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework, etc. Do not watch television.
Try keeping your eyes open instead of trying to sleep.
A Word about Television
Many people fall asleep with the television on in their room. Watching television before bedtime is often a bad idea. Television is a very engaging medium that tends to keep people up. We generally recommend that the television not be in the bedroom. At the appropriate bedtime, the TV should be turned off and the patient should go to bed. Some people find that the radio helps them to sleep. Since radio is a less engaging medium than TV, this may help for some. The same is true for the computer as it is for television, it is too stimulating.
If none of the above works, go to bed the same time as always, but get up after 4 hours of sleep and stay awake until the next night, at least until 9:00PM.
Over the counter sleeping aides are effective putting you to sleep, but interfere with deep/restorative sleep. Many are addictive. Restoril, Halcyon and Dalmane should be avoided. Sonata, Ambien, Lunesta have minimal impact on deep sleep. Benadryl can impact memory.
Submitted by Susan Greathouse
Licensed Social Worker