How to Sleep Well: 10 tips for better sleep
More than 100 million people in the United States don’t get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. And an additional 33 million Americans have occasional sleepless nights. Sleeping well is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Sleep deprivation impairs memory, reaction time and alertness. Tired people are less productive at work, less patient with others and less interactive in relationships. Sleep deprivation also can be dangerous.
A study by the American Sleep Apnea Association and Stanford University’s Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center found that inadequate sleep causes problems similar to drinking too much alcohol. When a tired driver takes the wheel, the results can be disastrous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that sleepy drivers cause at least 100,000 crashes each year — 40,000 result in injuries and 1,550 are fatal.
10 tips for better sleep:
“Adults need 8 full hours of sleep and teens need 9 hours and 15 minutes,” says John W. Shepard Jr., M.D., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, Rochester, Minn. “However, the average person only gets 7 hours and 25 minutes of sleep a night.”
The following tips from Dr. Shepard can help you achieve restful sleep. You don’t have to use every tip on the list. “What works for one person doesn’t always work for another,” says Dr. Shepard.
Try one or two or a combination until you have enough quality sleep to feel alert and well rested.
1. Stick to a schedule, and don’t sleep late on weekends. If you sleep late on Saturday and Sunday morning, you’ll get Sunday night insomnia. Instead, go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. “You don’t need to rely on an alarm clock to wake up when you get enough sleep,” says Dr. Shepard.
2. Don’t eat or drink a lot before bedtime. Eat a light dinner about 2 hours before sleeping. If you drink too much liquid before sleeping, you’ll wake up repeatedly in the night for trips to the bathroom.
Don’t eat spicy or fatty foods. They cause heartburn.
Don’t have a midnight snack. If you get the munchies, eat something that triggers serotonin, which makes you sleepy. Carbohydrates (bread or cereal) or foods containing the amino acid L-tryptophan (milk, tuna, or turkey) will do the trick.
Don’t drink alcohol near bedtime. It may cause you to wake up repeatedly, snore and possibly develop sleep apnea.
3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine. They are addictive stimulants and keep you awake. Smokers experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and they have a harder time both falling asleep and waking up.
4. Exercise. Physical activity enhances the deep, refreshing stage of sleep. If you’re trying to sleep better, the best time to exercise is in the afternoon. Strenuous exercise in the four hours preceding sleep will interfere with your ability to fall asleep easily.
5. A slightly cool room is ideal for sleeping. This mimics your internal temperature drop during sleep, so turn off the heat and save on fuel bills.
If you tend to get cold, use blankets. Try sleeping in warmer nightclothes and wear socks. Studies show that warm hands and feet induce sleep quickly.
If you overheat at night, wear light nightclothes and sleep under a single sheet. Use an air conditioner or fan to keep the room cool.
Use a dehumidifier if you are bothered by moist air. Use a humidifier if you are bothered by dry air. Signs of dry air irritation include a sore throat, nosebleeds or a dry throat.
6. Sleep only at night. Daytime naps steal hours from nighttime slumber. Limit daytime sleep to 20-minute, power naps.
If you work nights, keep window coverings closed so that sunlight, which interferes with the body’s internal clock, doesn’t interrupt your sleep.
If you have a day job and sleep at night, but still have trouble waking, leave the window covering open and let the sun’s light wake you up.
7. Keep it quiet. Silence is more conducive to sleep. Turn off the radio and TV. Use earplugs, a fan or some other source of constant, soothing, background noise to mask sound that you cannot control, such as a busy street, trains, airplanes or even a snoring partner. Double-pane windows and heavy curtains also muffle outside noise.
8. Make your bed. “A good bed is subjective and different for each person. Make sure you have a bed that is comfortable and offers orthopedic, correct sleep,” says Dr. Shepard.
If you share your bed, make sure there is enough room for two.
Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
Go to bed when you are tired and turn out the lights. If you don’t fall asleep in 15 minutes, get up and do something else. Go back to bed when you are tired.
Do not agonize about falling asleep. The stress will only prevent sleep.
9. Soak and sack out. Taking a hot shower or bath before bed helps bring on sleep because they can relax the tense muscles.
10. Don’t rely on sleeping pills. Check with your doctor before using sleeping pills. Make sure the pills won’t interact with other medications or with an existing medical condition.
Use the lowest dosage and never mix alcohol and sleeping pills.
If you feel sleepy or dizzy during the day, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or discontinuing the pills.
Difficulty falling asleep and sleeping excessively long hours (+10hrs./day) can be signs of depression. If you wish you could sleep more to avoid life’s problems or are afraid to fall asleep because you don’t want to have dreams, you may have a psychological problem that can be helped by counseling.
Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance. He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”