Do You Get a Good Night’s Sleep?
I can’t sleep! I hear this from so many people. Has the entire world stopped sleeping? Often we think there is nothing we can do about it, or has sleep become less important? Some people seem to accept being relegated to being “one of those people” who can’t sleep. Others seem to live with the excuse that they “don’t need as much sleep as other people do”. While others just won’t accept that they have a sleep disorder. So I decided to see what the National Sleep Foundation had to say about getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep Affects our Health
Sleep is important to our health. Our immune cells don’t work very well if you keep waking up in the middle of the night. Among other health issues poor sleep patterns increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Sleep also affects our moods, and when we are irritable it can even impair our relationships. Sleep deprivation can cause lack of mental alertness that not only affects our job performance, but it can also affect our judgment when driving. The inability to sleep can affect our weight as well, and sleep deprived individuals are more likely to become obese as they are more likely to crave foods that are higher in calories and carbohydrates.The cycle continues as this pattern in turn could lead to diabetes. While finally sleepless nights also affect our aging process, as our body’s restorative capacity becomes depleted.
Sometimes it just takes some concentration and slight behavioral changes to help you have a restful sleep. Some people may need a more aggressive approach, and while there are different kinds of sleep disorders, this article will focus on insomnia. Insomnia is when you have trouble falling asleep, have problems maintaining sleep or awaken too early unable to get back to sleep. Half the people with insomnia don’t even know they have an actual sleep disorder and many don’t believe anything can be done about it. There are many reasons for insomnia: among them would be stress, depression, perimenopause, and excessive consumption of caffeine.
Our Circadian Clock
One of the most important things you can do is to keep a regulated sleep schedule sticking to a regular bed and wake time. Although it might be difficult, try to keep the same bedtime even on the weekends, along with waking at your regular schedule. Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a “circadian clock”. Nature points the way. When your biological rhythms are aligned with the rhythms of nature, your mind/body systems will be in a more positive state of health. It is recommended that you sleep 6 – 8 hours each night. The hours you sleep before midnight are the most rejuvenating. Optimally, if you can be in bed by 10 or 10:30 and sleep until six, you will feel better than if you went to bed at midnight and slept until 8.
Sleep and Addictions
A sleeping problem can be a risk factor for substance abuse or depression. You have probably heard advice saying that having a drink before bed helps people sleep. This may lead to dependency on alcohol and thus it becomes a risk factor for substance abuse.
People with addictions, especially to alcohol or drugs, have difficulty sleeping. Addicts and alcohol dependent people are often nighthawks and actually fight sleep. Just walking into their bedroom can cause anxiety and worry, knowing they will toss and turn all night. I used to be one of those people that was afraid to go to bed. I used wine to help me get to sleep. The problem with alcohol is that it may initially help get you to sleep, but it will disrupt your ability to stay asleep as the alcohol wears off and your body begins to feel its withdrawal.
More Sleep Tips
- Don’t drink any alcohol before going to bed. Drinking interrupts the sleep cycle, therefore disrupting your sleep.
- Adopt a new routine. If you are used to going to bed well after midnight, for the first week try stepping up your bedtime slowly by going to bed one half hour earlier at night; then the next week and additional half hour earlier again. Continue this pattern until you can be in bed by 10 or 10:30p.m.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Both of these are stimulants and will most certainly add to your sleep dilemma. Choose milk or maybe a non-caffeinated herbal tea as your bedtime beverage. Smoking before going to bed also makes it more difficult to go to sleep as nicotine withdrawal can wake you up in the middle of the night. Yet another good reason to stop smoking.
- Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before retiring for the night. You’ll be more comfortable if you aren’t full. Avoid spicy foods that can cause heartburn. Don’t drink too much liquid before going to bed to avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom.
- Exercise regularly. Including exercise in your daily routine can help make it easier to fall asleep. One mistake people make is to exercise too close to bedtime. Exercise increases body temperature and you want your body to have cooled down with enough time before turning in, in order to be able to fall asleep.
- Create a nice environment for sleeping. Have your room cool, quiet and dark. Your body’s natural melatonin process works better if you’re in a dark environment. Also be sure to have a good mattress and comfortable pillow. Some of us are still using the same mattress we have had for years, not realizing the difference it can make.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Keep your work out of the bedroom! Too often do we drag a laptop in the bedroom thinking it’s a matter of convenience where it is actually a source of over stimulation. Many experts also recommend that a television doesn’t belong here either, especially if you are over stimulated easily and have a sleep disorder.
- Design a sleep ritual. A ritual will prepare your mind and body for sleep. Be sure to follow Part 2 of this series: Sleep-The Final Frontier to read more about sleep and bedtime rituals.