Sleep: A How-To Guide

elderly lady sleeping

I’m sure you’ve heard of “sleep hygiene,” a practice that encourages doing the same routine each night to try to encourage good quality sleep: turn off electronics, have a warm bath, drink a warm beverage (something without caffeine!), avoid a big heavy meal or alcoholic beverages too close to bedtime, have enough quiet time at the end of the day to allow ourselves to wind down.

Still, many of us struggle with getting enough shut-eye. A blog on improving sleep appeared recently on WebMD, and in the latest issue of Parade Magazine there’s an article entitled “Sleep: You’re Doing It Wrong” by Paula Spencer Scott. Both of these sources provide some good reminders, and a little bit of new (to me) information. The main idea is that sleep is a skill that can be improved with practice.

For many of us, the number one culprit is stress-induced anxiety that can keep us from sleeping. Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, director of the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, suggests treating ruminating about a stressful situation like any other stimulation—do everything you can to keep it out of your bed. She recommends keeping a “worry journal” that you write in during the day, but literally closing the book on those thoughts before you go to bed. (Some people also recommend keeping a little notepad by the side of your bed—not to journal in, but to jot things down that you need to remember so you don’t fret all night about remembering them!)

Experts also recommend being deliberate about sleep time. It’s best to decide what time you need to wake up, and work backwards from there to make sure you get the hours you need. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. We can learn to get by on the less sleep, but we can’t train our bodies to NEED less sleep! The best plan is to be consistent. In the best case scenario, we would have daily routines of eating meals at the same times, exercising at the same times, and going to bed and getting up at the same times. And we’d have a routine nightly ritual that signals our brain it’s time to hit the hay (brush teeth, pray/meditate, snuggle, sleep).

We can’t make up for lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekends—in fact, sleeping in can actually disrupt our body clocks! And as for napping, most people find a SHORT nap refreshing. But if you have chronic insomnia, a long nap too late in the day can decrease the brain’s “sleep drive,” making it even harder to sleep at night.

One tip from Scott’s article was to make sure we are comfortable in our beds. Do you really love your mattress? Pillow? Or does either cause you pain or stiffness? Are your sheets and blankets inviting and comfortable? What about what you wear to bed? Usually natural fabrics like cotton, silk or bamboo—or wearing nothing at all—will help keep us cooler. And cool—and DARK—rooms are best for sleeping.

Another piece of advice from Scott that may be hard to hear, is that our pets can disturb our slumber. A recent study showed that 63 percent of respondents who let their pets sleep with them had poor quality of sleep. Especially dogs, because they take up more room and their sleep cycles are so different from ours. Scott challenges readers to sleep with a device like Fitbit while sleeping with your dog for two weeks, and then while sleeping solo for two weeks and compare the results. Chances are you’ll see that you’ll get much more sound sleep when the dog is not in bed with you.

Both WebMD and the Parade article state that if we truly cannot sleep, it may be best to go ahead and get up for a little while. Try this: remind yourself that if you’re not sleeping, even resting is really good for us. Try thinking dull, pleasant thoughts. Count sheep if you like that, or walk every hole at your favorite golf course in your mind, or mentally bake something you like to create. Try consciously focusing on and deliberately relaxing each part of your body from your head and face to your toes.

If none of that works, get up out of bed rather than lie there and watch the clock and worry. Read, water your plants, do some ironing. WebMD says, “A quiet activity can help you relax and feel sleepy. Staying in bed may lead to frustration and clock-watching. Over time, you may associate your bed with wakefulness, not rest. Serious health conditions have been associated with severe, chronic lack of sleep, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.”

Yikes! On the other hand, good quality sleep helps us live longer. While we are “resting,” our bodies are actively digesting, repairing, detoxing, lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation. And of course sleep is also necessary for us to focus and be more productive during the day, and also to stay alert while driving.

While stress is the #1 reason why people have trouble sleeping, it’s not the only cause. Illnesses, medication side effects, chronic pain, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea are other reasons people have insomnia. Massage therapy and reflexology can help us relax and get a good night’s sleep. Regular exercise, healthy diet and proper hydration, and sleep hygiene habits are important. But if you feel like you are doing all the right things and you still don’t get enough quality sleep, don’t be afraid to discuss it with your doctor and ask for a referral for a sleep study. Sleeping well is a key ingredient to living well!

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/living-with-insomnia-11/slideshow-insomnia?ecd=socpd_fb_nosp_3640_ss_cm497

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth Posted on March 22, 2017

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