Night May Be the Most Important Part of Your Day
It’s a fact. Most Americans of all ages don’t get enough sleep. As young adults, sleep loses out to studying, working late or partying ‘til the wee hours. As we age, our sleep may be disrupted by anxiety, physical discomfort, or needing to use the bathroom more frequently.
The consequences of insufficient sleep are many. Poor sleep impacts our mood and mental health, our ability to learn, to do our jobs well, and may even put us in physical danger (think drowsy driving). Long term sleep deprivation also contributes to myriad health problems including increased risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and dementia. And it’s not just under-sleeping that causes trouble. Studies have shown that people who regularly sleep more than nine hours each day are at increased risk for serious health issues, too.
Plan ahead for a better night’s sleep
Most sleep experts agree on the same basic principles that can help promote better sleep. If you find that you’re sleeping less, or less well than you’d like, try some of these recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation, Mayo Clinic, and other healthcare organizations.
Create your own personal sleep schedule
The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours, and no more than nine. Try to get to bed at the same time each night – even on weekends – and get up at the same time, too. If you need to make an adjustment on the weekend, try to vary your schedule by no more than an hour on either end.
Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly
Keep your bedroom at 60 to 67 degrees for the optimal sleeping temperature. Invest in a better pillow if yours is less supportive or comfortable than you’d like. Pay attention to noise, and use ear plugs or a white noise machine (or phone app) to block out noise from adjoining rooms or snoring.
Get some exercise every day, preferably early in the day
And if you can get outside to walk or bike – even better. Our natural body clock or Circadian rhythm is influenced by bright light, and sunlight is a powerful signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up. On the flip side, bright light and vigorous activity in the evening may make it difficult to wind down before bed. Easy stretching in low light is more conducive to sleep.
Turn off the TV, phone, tablet, and other electronics
As noted above, light is a wakeup call to the brain, and the light emitted by electronic devices is particularly bright and strong. Even e-readers can make it more difficult to fall asleep. If you like to read before bed, you may want to opt for a book instead.
Ease your way in to sleep with a bedtime routine
Take a warm bath, lower the lights, massage your hands and feet, or listen to relaxing music. Setting the mood for sleep should help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.
Avoid napping, especially late in the day
If you must take a nap, limit your nap time to 30 minutes.
Steer clear of alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and big, spicy meals near bedtime
All of these “sleep stealers” can negatively impact your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Alcohol may help you feel more relaxed, but once it’s been processed by the body, it has the opposite effect, and can make you wake up again.
- Cigarettes and caffeine are stimulants and tend to wake us up, rather than calming us down. You should try to avoid any caffeinated drinks for a full eight hours before bedtime.
- Spicy foods and large portions can lead to heartburn, especially if you lie down after eating. Enjoy small portions at dinner, and if you’re hungry before bed, have just a small snack.
Don’t carry your cares to bed
Got a lot on your mind? Most of us do, and some people have a very difficult time sleeping when they’re particularly busy or worried. If you wake up at night, start thinking, and can’t get back to sleep, get up and write down what’s on your mind before heading back to bed. Better yet, be proactive! If you have a busy day coming up, make a list of tasks to get them out of your head. If you’re worried about something in particular, write down a plan of action that you can deal with during daylight.
Keep track of your sleep
If you’re accustomed to tracking your fitness and food intake, and your fitness tracker has a sleep diary feature, be sure to use it to track the amount and quality of your sleep. If you notice a pattern of poor sleep, review the list above to see if there are any lifestyle changes you can make to help you sleep better.
Aging can affect the quality of your sleep. Take steps to help you sleep better.
Our sleep patterns tend to change as we age, and there’s not much we can do about it. This video about Aging and Sleep includes valuable information that may help.
Finally, these additional suggestions from Mayo Clinic may also help improve your sleep quality.
- Review medications and supplements with your doctor to see if any could be affecting your sleep.
- Stop drinking fluids within two hours of bedtime to minimize trips to the bathroom.
- If pain keeps you awake at night, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter pain medication before bed. Gentle stretching before bed may also ease joint pain that sometimes disrupts sleep.
- Try taking 1-2 milligrams of melatonin in sustained release tablet form about two hours before bed.
Be sure to speak with your doctor before starting or stopping any medication or supplement.