Sleep is essential to our health. A good night's sleep can improve our immune and metabolic functions, boost our mood and memory, and prevent chronic diseases, among many other benefits. Unfortunately, one in three people are not getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try these tips for a better night’s rest and improved health:
- Remove sources of light from your sleep area. Light of any kind sends a message to your brain that your body should be awake, therefore it’s important to keep your sleep area as dark as possible. Turn your alarm clock around, install room darkening curtains, and by all means – leave the cell phone, TV and laptop out of the bedroom. Light from screens at bedtime is by far one of the biggest causes of sleep disturbance. If you can’t eliminate light sources, try a sleep mask.
- Develop a healthy bedtime routine. Bedtime routines are not just for infants. Spending the last hour before bed doing something relaxing can help you fall asleep – and stay asleep – more easily. Consider instead taking a warm bath, meditating, reading, or having a cup of chamomile tea. Diffusing lavender essential oils before bed can also help you unwind.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps keep your circadian rhythm on track. Your circadian rhythm is basically your body’s natural clock, which for most organisms runs on a 24-hour cycle. If your schedule makes it hard to go to bed at the same time each night, at least try to wake up (and stay up – no snoozing!) at the same time each day. A schedule lets your body know it’s time to be awake, and all of your systems respond accordingly. Make sure you stick with this schedule even on the weekends, if possible.
- Stay away from caffeine and naps in the latter half of your day. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, you might be extra tired during the day and think you need coffee to sustain yourself all day. However, an afternoon dose of caffeine can keep you up hours later, so kick that habit to the curb. Same with napping – an afternoon siesta is fine, but limit it to no more than 20 minutes and no later than 5 hours prior to your normal bedtime. Napping too long, or too late, could be messing up your evening sleep, which is more important for your overall health.
- Exercise. Regular exercise improves your mood, reduces stress and can help you sleep better at night. If you find that evening exercise is making it difficult for you to fall asleep, try exercising early in the day instead of at night. If the evening is the only time you can exercise, keep doing it and try another solution to improve sleep. It is better to exercise at night than not exercise at all.
- Don’t toss and turn. If you find that it is taking you longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, don’t keep tossing and turning. That just creates more stress in your body. Instead, get up and try one of the activities mentioned in #2, and go back to bed when you’re feeling more relaxed.
Dr. James O’Connor, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist with Shore Physicians Group, says there are many illnesses that directly affect our sleep, including Obstructive Sleep Apnea and insomnia, along with medications and other medical issues.
“These will reduce the restorative ability of your sleep, so it is very important to optimize the quality and amount of sleep that you get on a routine basis. The tips above would go far to help correct very common mistakes that a busy person can make, without being aware of the consequences. If you are still tired despite following these tips, then discussing your symptoms with your doctor is recommended,” says O’Connor.
To learn about Shore Medical Center’s accredited sleep center, visit www.shoremedicalcenter.org/departments/sleep_medicine or call 855-633-6818.