Top 5 Tips for Better Sleep

Top 5 Tips for Better Sleep

To feel energetic, alert and perform aa  your best, follow these 5 essential tips for getting a good night’s sleep. Better sleep is key to better health and leads to a more vibrant state of well-being. According to Dr. Lawrence Epstein, author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep, sleeping is as important to health and well-being as diet and exercise. Here are some choices you can make to maximize restorative sleep and help your body stay strong.

1.  Create a Calm Sleeping Environment: Cool, Dark  & Quiet

Cool

A bedroom environment that supports uninterrupted rest will have you feeling more refreshed in the morning. Experts agree it’s best to keep the room temperature set to a slightly cool temperature of 68-70°F with adequate ventilation. The comfort level of your bedroom affects the quality of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the stage in which you dream.  If it’s too hot or too cold, your body may wake up after several hours and have difficulty falling back asleep.

Dark

When you go to bed you turn off the lights, but how much light is still present? Many of us have on the TV, a night light within view, a clock on the nightstand, and street lights holding vigil until dawn. Your brain relies on lighting cues from the environment to tell it when to sleep and wake.  According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, if too much light is present your sleep may be non-restorative and of poor quality. For a deeper sleep, mimic the light-dark cycles of nature by turning off all electronics and lights, and using curtains or shades to block interference from outside light sources. Even having your alarm clock within view can lead to anxiety and sleeplessness, so it’s best to have it not directly facing you.

Quiet

Your bedroom is your sanctuary for resting. Make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep by eliminating disturbances from computer fans, pets, leaky faucets, hissing radiators, or loud music. Clearing your space of ‘noise clutter’ will go a long way in providing better sleep on a regular basis.  If you share a room with a snorer or live in a busy neighborhood, consider using earplugs, a white noise machine or a fan. The gentle sound generated by white noise machines or fans can be effective in masking low to moderate noises and provide a more restful sleep. Although they don’t eliminate noise, earplugs can aid in blocking noisy distractions. The added benefit is that it often helps the sleeper focus internally, on the sounds of their breath and heartbeat, helping them fall asleep faster.

2.  Avoid Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol

Sleep and Caffeine

While caffeine occurs naturally in plants such as cacao pods, kola nuts and coffee beans, the stimulating effects of caffeine are not natural for sleep patterns. Drinking coffee, energy drinks, certain soft drinks, teas or some over the counter medicines too close to bedtime will signal your body to stay awake, even when it needs rest. A cup of green tea contains approximately 25-40mg caffeine, whereas a cup of coffee has 135mg—over 4 times as much. The effects of caffeine are felt within 15 minutes of ingesting and can stay in your system for six hours or more. It’s best to avoid it as an after dinner beverage. Instead, choices such as non-caffeine herbal teas, club soda spritzers, juice or water are more supportive of better sleep.

 Nicotine

Like caffeine, nicotine can be detrimental to restful sleep. People who smoke are four times more likely to experience disruptive sleep.  The book, Sleep: a comprehensive handbook, states that smokers have a more difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep, which results in daytime drowsiness. If you’re a smoker, you’re also at a higher risk for snoring. The best remedy is to quit smoking or at least refrain before bedtime. The long-term rest you’ll enjoy will outweigh the temporary withdrawal effects of smoking.

Alcohol

The sedating affects of alcohol should never be used to treat insomnia. Each night, our bodies need to alternative between cycles of SWS (slow wave sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Most of our time is spent in the restful SWS sleep, but every 90 minutes a REM cycle occurs, and that’s where we dream. Although alcohol may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, it has the opposite effect on the duration of sleep, especially if more than one drink (a 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine or 1.5 oz. 80 proof alcohol) is consumed. The disruption of the sleep pattern in the second half of the night often leads to a difficulty in falling back to sleep. With this fragmented sleep pattern, the body isn’t getting the proper amount of REM sleep cycles and rest it needs. Without a good night’s sleep, fatigue, decreased attention and other imbalances in the body can occur.

3.  Be Sure to Exercise and Eat Right

Exercise

Remember what your mom used to say when you were little? Her reminders to  “go out side and play”, “eat your dinner” and “it’s time for bed” encouraged us to exercise, eat right and get a good night’s sleep.  Mom was right. Exercise has a positive impact on body weight, respiratory function and fitness. It also increases metabolism, helping us burn the food we ingest. Timing is everything, so be sure not to plan a workout just before bedtime. It stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, making rest more difficult.

Diet

Eating healthy on a regular basis is the best way to avoid having to diet. Choose from the five food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat & beans) and limit the amount of sugar and sweets. With our schedules running 24/7, don’t rev up with a caffeine drink 3-7 hours before bedtime. Instead, choose a light snack: cup of yogurt, herbal tea with milk or soy milk, hazelnuts, or an oatmeal raisin cookie with a glass of milk. These are foods that support better sleep.

4.  Leave the Baggage Outside the Bedroom: No emotional problems, stress, arguments or job worries welcome here.

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 70% of adults in America say they are affected daily by stress or anxiety, often leading to difficulty sleeping. These stress-induced sleep problems increase as their stress levels increase. In our multi-tasking world how can we let go of worries and get the sleep our bodies need for peak performance? Here are some tips that may help:

-          Consciously clear your mind of clutter. Let go of the ‘chatter’ and know that the problem can be solved tomorrow, but tonight is for sleeping. Focus on the cycles of your breath while mentally detaching from the outside world.

-          Keep a journal and, before bedtime, write out your worries and concerns as if they were already solved. You don’t have to detail how they were solved, just write that they are resolved and you’re enjoying the harmony that results. The feeling of thankfulness will go a long way in helping you relax into better sleep. 

-          If you’ve had an argument with your partner/spouse, child or parent, you can try listening and talking it over before bedtime. If there is no resolution the best thing you can do is agree that it warrants further conversation in the morning, then get some rest. Everyone has bad days, and sometimes choosing rest gives you a fresh perspective upon awakening.  

-          Job concerns and financial worries are a leading cause of fitful sleep, occupying more space in our evening thoughts than relationships do. The bedroom is no place for work, and you can start by eliminating laptops on your nightstand and stop checking emails from bed. Stress is detrimental to emotional and physical health, and too much of it can be overwhelming. When you’re not feeling at the mercy of your job or finances, you’ll enjoy having more control and taking better care of yourself. Exercising can go a long way in relieving anxiety, as does creating a balanced schedule. Prioritize your tasks, break large tasks into smaller pieces, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Pare down your schedule and let go of areas where you over-committed your time or resources. Most importantly, be sure to plan time for fun and relaxing. You’ll enjoy life more and sleep better when you let go of unnecessary stress.

5.  Practice the 3 R’s: keep a nightly ROUTINE; REMOVE things that over stimulate the mind; and make time to RELAX.

Routine: The average sleep needs of an adult (18+) is 7-9 hours a night. Newborns need 12-18 hours, Preschoolers need 11-13 and teens are at their best with 8.5-10 hours. To ensure that you get optimal sleep on a regular basis you need to follow a routine sleep-wake pattern. Our brain has a circadian rhythm that is a regulating mechanism and serves as an internal body clock. Regular sleep patterns strengthen this inner clock and help us function better.

Remove: Eliminate objects and activities that distract or over stimulate the mind just before bedtime. Laptops, cell phones with internet access, video games, and scary movies are examples of things that make our minds too active and, therefore, unable to fall asleep easily. Making your bedroom a haven for rest and relaxation is key for achieving better sleep.

Relax: For some people it’s bubble baths and for others it’s reading before bedtime, but whatever winding down means to you, be sure it’s part of your routine at night. Late night business calls, loud music and to-do lists are counter-productive to relaxation. Instead, consider an evening restorative yoga class, a book on tape, a fireside chat, a relaxation CD, or listening to calming music. Have fun creating a ritual that works for you and leaves you feeling relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep.