ECHN’s tips for getting a better night’s sleep
Feature Article- Fri., Mar. 4, 2011
It’s the end of the day, and all you want to do is jump into your comfortable bed, snuggle under your cozy sheets, close your eyes, and drift off to a refreshing good night sleep. Instead, you find yourself tossing and turning or staring up at the ceiling wishing yourself to sleep. If this happens one or two nights, there is no cause for concern. But if sleeplessness is your constant companion, it’s time to talk to your primary care physician.
Sleep problems can disrupt and disturb your overall quality of life. Sleeping less than the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended per night can have a dramatic impact on your health. High blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack and stroke are some of the health risks associated with sleep problems, according to recent studies. Sleep problems also contribute to drowsy driving, which is responsible for 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and more than 100,000 accidents each year, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates.
So how can you get a better night’s sleep? Here are a few tips from the National Sleep Foundation:
• Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends. Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a “circadian clock” [our internal 24-hour clock] in our brain and the body’s need to balance both sleep time and wake time.
• Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath and then reading a book or listening to soothing music. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety.
• Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep – cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise,” humidifiers, fans and other devices.
• Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. The mattress you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 10 years for most good-quality mattresses.
• Use your bedroom as a refuge. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
• Finish eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime. Also, spicy foods may cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty falling asleep and discomfort during the night.
• Exercise regularly. It is best to complete your workout at least three hours before bedtime. In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. However, exercising sporadically or right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult.
• Avoid caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate) close to bedtime. It can keep you awake. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it can produce an alerting effect.
• Avoid nicotine (e.g. cigarettes, tobacco products). Used close to bedtime, it can lead to poor sleep. Nicotine is also a stimulant, so smoking before bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. And never smoke in bed or when sleepy!
• Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Although many people think of alcohol as a sedative, it actually disrupts sleep, causing nighttime awakenings. Consuming alcohol leads to a night of less restful sleep.
If you have tried these tips and still are having difficulty falling asleep, wake up often, and wake up not feeling refreshed, discuss these problems with your doctor. There may be an underlying cause that you will want to have properly diagnosed. Your doctor will help treat the problem or may refer you to one of the sleep specialist physicians on the ECHN staff. If you would like more information, contact the ECHN Sleep Disorders Center at 860-647-6881, press #1, or visit the website www.echn.org.