Catching enough Zzzz’s lately? Many Americans know that high-quality sleep is essential to healthy living. However, the demands of a modern fast-paced, non-stop lifestyle can make it hard to get the hours (and peace) necessary for restful sleep.
As a sleep specialist, I see many patients who have difficulty getting rest because of bad bedtime habits. If you suspect that you are not getting enough good sleep, you may have to make some adjustments to your routine to retrain your body to sleep well. By improving your bedtime habits and making a few simple changes to your routine, you can exponentially improve your chances of sleeping well. Here are my top fifteen tips for quality sleep:
- Don’t Just Lie There
If you cannot fall asleep or are not feeling sleepy do not lie in bed trying to sleep. Get up after no more than 20 minutes awake in bed and do something boring.
- Focus Your Environment
The bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex. Other activities such as reading and TV watching often promote wakefulness, not sleep.
- Distract Yourself
Try not to anticipate poor sleep. Worrying about whether you will fall asleep often means you will not. While a poor night’s sleep will leave you feeling badly the next day, it is not a fatal disease. If you trust your body, you will sleep.
- Establish a Routine
Establish a pre-sleep routine. This will enable your body and mind to slow down in anticipation of sleep. Read boring material, and avoid work and interesting books.
- Exercise at the Right Time
Exercise helps sleep but exercising just before bedtime may actually increase alertness. It is best to exercise about 4-6 hours before bedtime; the drop in metabolism during this time frame after physical activity will help promote sleep.
- Keep a Diary
Keeping a diary and writing down all that is on one’s mind, or establishing a “worry time,” helps leave all those thoughts on paper. This frees the mind and allows one to fall asleep rather than mull over problems.
- Eat a Snack
Try having a light snack. Diabetics should avoid carbohydrates/sugars four hours before sleep. The rise in sugar may promote frequent urination during the night.
- Take a Shower
We tend to sleep better as our bodies cool. In order to relax your body and accelerate cooling try taking a warm bath or shower about 90 minutes before going to sleep.
- Avoid Sleep Inhibitors
If you are having trouble sleeping at night do not nap during the day. Also, avoid caffeine as it may keep you awake at night.
- Darken the Room
Your bedroom environment and comfort is very important. The room should be dark; get special curtains if needed.
- Turn Down the Noise
The room should be quiet for optimal sleep. If it is impossible to eliminate all noises, consider earplugs. Some people do like to sleep with a calming rhythmic noise from a white noise machine or a table fan.
- Invest in Mattress
The importance of a good mattress should not be underestimated. Poor quality mattresses lose their support more quickly. The mattress should support your pine in its normal position, relieving the need for muscles to work at support while you sleep. It should feel comfortable and be large enough for you to sleep on comfortably.
- Set a Fixed “Wake Up” Time
A fixed wake up time is of great importance in developing a good sleep pattern – more important than bedtime even. If you are having trouble sleeping then keep a fixed wake up time, even on weekends. As soon as possible after awakening you should be in bright light, preferably outdoor light. This helps set your internal clock (circadian rhythm).
- Beware Medications
If possible, avoid substances that interfere with sleep and be aware that certain medications may be the culprit.
- The Big Three
The use of three substances in particular can interfere with healthy sleep. Caffeine even in small amounts may interfere with sleep for many hours. Nicotine is a stimulant and interferes with sleep. Alcohol, while it can induce sleep, usually leads to overall sleep disruption.
Lastly, be proactive in your sleep health! If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, make an appointment with your primary care physician; they can refer you to a specialist. For more reading on sleep health pick up a copy of No More Sleepless Nights by Dr. Peter Hauri.
Dr. Anne Redding graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and Georgetown University Medical School. She completed her Neurology residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine and the American Board of Sleep Medicine. Dr. Redding is the medical director for the Bon Secours DePaul Sleep Center.