What You Need to Know About Sleeping Well

Getting a good night sleep takes a little bit of work, but what so many people fail to recognize is just how important sleep is to our daily lives. The average amount of sleep a person needs is 7-9 hours a night. Some people may need more or less, but sleep deprivation can run havoc on your health, relationships, and may even increase you risk of having an accident.

The secret to a getting good night’s sleep is maintaining healthy sleep habits. The habits and practices taken in order to ensure restful, effective sleep are known as sleep hygiene. Maintaining good sleep hygiene means following the behavioral, environmental, dietary, and exercise practices conducive to sleeping better, and can significantly improve your health and quality of life.

Sleep Hygiene Statistics

  • 22.6% of women sleep with the lights on.

  • 22% increase in breast cancer when sleeping with the light on, rather than total darkness. In a recent study, 76%-83% of regular exercisers reported good sleep, as opposed to 56% for non-exercisers.

  • 24% of non-exercisers reported excessive sleepiness. Waking up just one hour later on the weekends can through your rhythm off.

Behavioral Tips for Sleeping Better

Get out of bed: The longer you stay in bed, the more fragmented your sleep becomes. 8 hours of sleep out of 8.5 hours in bed is more efficient than 8 hours of sleep out of 10 hours in bed. If you are awake in bed for 15-20 minutes, get up and leave bedroom.

Maintain a schedule: Go to bed and wake-up at the same times, regardless of the day of the week. Our bodies are controlled by circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythm needs one stable point around which it can stabilize. Since you cannot control what time you fall asleep, the only time you can control is what time you wake up. Waking up more than one hour later on the weekend than the weekday can through your circadian rhythm off.

Have a relaxing pre-sleep routine: We all know the importance of bedtime routines for children, but seem to forget them as adults. Choose a “wind down” activity that requires little thought, such as reading, music or meditation. Baths are a great way to get ready for bedtime. Whatever routine you decide on, stick with it long enough to see if it works.

Only use the bedroom for sleep or intimacy: Don’t use the bedroom to watch TV, eat, work, talk on the phone or perform any other activities not related to sleep or sex.

Avoid the screens before bed: Exposing yourself to the glow of a screen before bed will keep you awake. Blue light from the computer, phone or TV prevents melatonin release. Your body is hardwired to wake up when light is bright and go to sleep when it gets dark. If you absolutely must use a computer or mobile device later in the day, at least turn the screen brightness way down to semi-counter the effect of the light.

Avoid naps: Only take a short nap if necessary to retain alertness, and avoid napping 6-8 hours prior to sleep.

Environmental Tips for Sleeping Better

Get rid of the clock: Watching the clock creates anxiety about lack of sleep and a focus on being awake. Turn the clock away so you cannot see it. Set the alarm and forget about it until it signals you to wake up.

Keep the bedroom dark: Avoid bright lights, because bright lights can disrupt sleep.

Set a comfortable temperature: A temperature around 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit seems ideal, but this is often individualized for comfort.

Avoid loud noises: If necessary, use ear plugs or “white noise” machines to minimize loud noises.

Remove potential allergens: Allergens can disrupt sleep because of sneezing, sniffling, and coughing.

Dietary Tips for Sleeping Better

Avoid caffeine 6-8 hours before sleep: Coffee, chocolate and some teas contain caffeine. 1-2 cups of coffee or tea is a reasonable daily intake of caffeine. The effects of caffeine normally peak around 2-4 hours after ingestion, but could linger as long as 20 hours after.

Avoid large meals and alcohol 3-5 hours before sleep: Alcohol may help sleep onset, but leads to fragmented and poor quality sleep. Alcohol also increases urine production and the need to awaken during the night for bathroom breaks.

Eat a light carbohydrate snack prior to sleep: Or some turkey! Hunger can disrupt sleep.

Avoid eating in the middle of the night: Snacking in the middle of the night can cause you to awaken habitually at that time as you become conditioned to hunger.

Avoid sleeping pills: Sleep medications can lose their effectiveness in about 2 - 4 weeks when taken regularly and can actually worsen sleep problems over time. When sleeping pills have been used for a long period, withdrawal can lead to insomnia rebound.

Stop smoking and nicotine use: Research shows that heavy smokers take longer to get to sleep. Although some smokers claim that smoking helps them relax, nicotine is actually a stimulant. Since it is really a stimulant, smoking, dipping, or chewing tobacco should be avoided within one to two hours prior to bedtime and during the night. Sleep often improves within 3 days after quitting smoking.

Exercise Tips for Sleeping Better

Exercise regularly: Regular exercise promotes a regular sleep/wake schedule. People tend to report better sleep on days they exercise, so why not exercise every day!

Avoid strenuous exercise 3-5 hours before sleep: Exercise raises body temperature. During sleep, body temperature lowers. Increased body temperature at bedtime can confuse the regular sleep/wake schedule.

What Are the Benefits of Getting Better Sleep?

Memory: Research shows that sleep helps in consolidating long-term memories as well as storing tasks that are normally associated without a person having to consciously think about them, ie: skating, riding a bike, running, etc. Each stage of sleep plays an important role in this process.

Safety: Daytime sleepiness results from not getting enough restful sleep and has been the culprit of many accidents, national road and air traffic mistakes, as well as medical errors caused by sleepy physicians.

Health: Lack of sleep and the decrease in quality of sleep has been proven to have significant health consequences, including a negative effect on the cardiovascular system.

Weight: Without proper sleep, the body’s hormone levels are altered, increasing appetites to help maintain energy levels to make up for the lack of sleep at bedtime.

Social Life: Too little sleep has been shown to decrease concentration, and increases irritability and leaves you too exhausted to interact in the things you like to do.

If you maintain the recommended habits above and still find you snore, have trouble sleeping are tired during the day, you may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. Find out if you have other symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.


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