Published on September 02, 2015

8 Ways to Get Better Sleep

By Susan Hanson, Sleep Clinic Technologist


FACT: 1 in 3 suffer from mild insomnia according
to the Sleep Health Foundation.

How are you sleeping? Are you getting 7 to 8 hours of refreshing sleep every night?

If you are similar to the respondents of a recent Sleep Foundation poll, only 44 percent of American adults reported having a good night’s sleep every night or almost every night. Over one half of American adults are NOT getting the sleep they need for their mind and body to be at peak performance each day.

Most young people have few problems falling asleep and maintaining that sleep. Due to their busy lifestyle and excessive energy, they rarely get enough sleep. So they tend to fall asleep quickly and sleep as long as possible if given the opportunity to repay the enormous sleep debit they have acquired from their irregular sleep schedule.

As people age, they are often surprised and frustrated to find that a good night’s sleep is more difficult to achieve. However, it is not age that has caused the problem, but rather “Bad for Sleep” habits that have developed over time.

Here are 8 ways to improve your sleep hygiene and get better sleep:

1. Get up at the same time EVERYDAY

Rise and Shine!

Even on the weekends and when on vacation. This will help set your circadian rhythm. The biological and psychological processes in the human body work on a 24-hour cycle. This is called circadian rhythm. All the processes in the body cycle with this rhythm.

For example, body temperature starts to increase in the morning hours of sleep just before awakening. This promotes wakefulness and alertness. As bedtime nears in the evening, body temps cool in preparation for sleep. The body temperature also dips between 2- 4 p.m., which may be why some people get drowsy in the afternoon. The body temperature also dips between 2-4 a.m. to help maintain REM sleep.

However, night workers state that it is extremely difficult to stay awake during this time. There is an overwhelming desire to sleep. Along with influencing sleep and wakefulness, our circadian rhythm times the release of various hormones such as cortisol, melatonin, and growth hormone.

2. Keep a regular schedule

Eat on a regular schedule

Eat meals at approximately the same time each day. Set a time for taking medications. Have a schedule for chores and activities. This will help maintain your circadian rhythm

3. Exercise regularly

Make sure to exercise regularly

Exercising on a regular basis results in falling asleep faster and sleeping longer with more “deep delta sleep”. It is best to exercise in the morning when one can be outside to take advantage of bright daylight. It is actually the light passing through the eyes to the suprachiasmatic nuclei in the hypothalamus of the brain that wakes us up and sets our internal time clock which determines our sleep wake cycle or circadian rhythm.

Do not exercise too close to bedtime because it can stimulate wakefulness. Mild exercise should be done at least 4 hours before bedtime and vigorous exercise should be done at least 6 hours prior to bedtime.

4. Don't nap

Unfortunately, don't nap

Mostly everyone needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Often when people nap, they have problems falling asleep at night or waking up too early in the morning because they have gotten too much sleep. Sleep is more refreshing when a person can sleep through a 7 to 8 hour block of time, rather than in short naps. If you must nap, limit the nap time to less than one hour, and never nap after 3 p.m. as it may become difficult to fall asleep at your normal bed time.

5. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco before bed time

Kick the bad habits ASAP

Caffeine stimulates the brain and interferes with sleep. Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, soda pop, chocolate or cocoa) within six hours of bedtime. Caffeine can be helpful in waking up and adding morning energy, but daylong consumption can lead to sleep problems. For those having problems falling asleep at night, limit caffeine to 2 cups a day before noon.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, so it may help one fall asleep faster. But once the alcohol wears off, there is a tendency to awaken and falling back asleep becomes harder. Sleep then is restless with frequent arousals. Alcohol can also cause nightmares and headaches the next morning. Avoid alcohol 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.

Tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco contain large amounts of nicotine. Nicotine stimulates the brain which makes falling asleep difficult. Smoking also causes air resistance to the upper airway, making breathing more labored, and increasing the risk for sleep apnea.

6. Seriously, just relax

Try to relax a bit!

Try establishing relaxing a pre-sleep ritual to cue your body that it is time for sleep. This is popular with children: evening snack, bath, brushing teeth, bedtime story and BOOM! The child is asleep before the story is finished. The child is so accustomed to this routine that their body is cued to fall sleep with the story.

It works for adults, too. A warm bath is good because, once out of the tub, the body cools, promoting sleep. Suggested bedtime snacks include milk products, turkey, almonds, and other foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid that turns into relaxing brain chemicals like serotonin and melatonin, a substance which promotes sleep. Reading before bed is popular because it takes the mind to other places away from current concerns and worries. Yoga, meditation, and prayer are also good methods for calming the mind and the body.

7. If you're sleepy, go to bed

If you're tired, go to sleep.

Try to maintain a regular bedtime schedule, but don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is excreted an hour or two before normal bedtime, causing sleepiness. This is the time to go to bed.

Often, if one stays up, the melatonin and the sleepiness “wear off”, and the feeling of wakefulness or “second wind of energy” set in, meaning the opportunity for sleep passes.

Many people fall asleep while sitting up and watching television in the evening when the melatonin takes effect. They go directly into the deepest sleep of their night: Delta sleep. It is then a struggle to awaken from this very deep sleep.

However, once awake, moving to their bedroom and into bed can be difficult. It’s hard to go back to sleep since they have already had the deepest sleep of the night. Delta sleep is the deepest and most difficult stage of sleep to awaken from--it enables sleep inertia to maintain sleep through the night. So, when sleepiness sets in… GO TO BED!

8. If unable to fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up

If unable to fall asleep, get up

Lying in bed awake for longer than 20 minutes becomes increasingly frustrating. The mind tends to wonder to events, which often lead to worry, anxiety and perhaps anger. By now the mind is so active that sleep will never come. The best remedy is to get up and get busy with something to distract your thoughts.

Leave the bedroom and engage in a quiet activity elsewhere. Don’t fall asleep outside the bedroom. Return to bed when ready to go back to sleep. Repeat this process through the night if necessary.

If worrying becomes a part of bedtime, designate a specific time during the day to write down concerns and worries. The goal is to resolve or deal with your worrying so it does not come up at night when trying to go to sleep.

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