Tips for better sleep and alertness!

First and foremost, protect your need and right to sleep!

sleepChronic sleep deprivation is becoming a significant problem in our society. Insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and other less common sleep disorders can lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep experts point out however, that another significant cause is from the increasing number of people who are “voluntarily” reducing the number of hours they are sleeping per night. For many, sleep is a commodity that is short-changed because of hectic schedules, longer work hours, nigh shift work and lack of time for relaxation and play.

It is important to realize that not getting the proper amount of ‘good quality’ sleep may have serious short-term and long-term consequences.  Reducing sleep by as little as 1½ hrs for just one night reduces daytime alertness by about 1/3. Excessive daytime sleepiness impairs memory and the ability to think and process information, and carries a substantially increased risk of sustaining an occupational injury. It should come as no surprise then that sleep deprivation is the leading contributing factor to motor vehicle accidents and work-related accidents.

Getting a good night’s sleep regularly is a health habit that will help promote optimum physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Good sleep hygiene refers to those practices, habits and environmental factors that are critically important for sound sleep. And most of it is under your control.

When reading the following tips keep in mind that there are four general areas that are important to good sleep hygiene:

  • our circadian rhythm, or 24 hour cycle
  • aging
  • psychological stressors – those factors that increase arousals while sleeping (a kind of mini-awakening, where your brain wakes up for just a few seconds)
  • common social or recreational drugs like nicotine, caffeine and alcohol.

Sleep Hygiene Tips

  1. Avoid watching TV, eating, and discussing emotional issues in bed. The bed should be used for sleep and sex only. If not, we can associate the bed with other activities and it often becomes difficult to fall asleep.
  2. Minimize noise, light, and temperature extremes during sleep with ear plugs, window blinds, or an electric blanket or air conditioner. Interestingly, if your room is too hot (above 75 degrees) or too cold (below 54 degrees), it can disrupt your sleep as well.
  3. Try not to drink fluids after 8 p.m. This may reduce awakenings due to urination.
  4. Avoid naps, except for a brief 10-15 minutes about eight hours after you awake. But if you have problems falling asleep, then no naps for you.
  5. Do not expose your self to bright light if you need to get up at night. Use a small night-light instead.
  6. Nicotine is a stimulant and should be avoided particularly near bedtime and upon night awakenings. Having a smoke before bed, although it feels relaxing, is actually putting a stimulant into your bloodstream.
  7. Caffeine is also a stimulant and is present in coffee (100-200 mg), soda (50-75 mg), tea (50-75 mg), chocolate, and various over-the-counter medications. Caffeine should be discontinued at least four to six hours before bedtime. If you consume large amounts of caffeine and you cut your self off too quickly, beware; you may get headaches that could keep you awake.
  8. Although alcohol is a depressant and may help you fall asleep, the subsequent metabolism that clears it from your body when you are sleeping causes a withdrawal syndrome. This withdrawal causes awakenings and is often associated with nightmares and sweats.
  9. A light snack may be sleep-inducing, but a heavy meal too close to bedtime interferes with sleep. Stay away from protein and stick to carbohydrates or dairy products. Milk contains the amino acid L-tryptophan, which has been shown in research to help people go to sleep. So milk and cookies or crackers (without chocolate) may be useful and taste good as well.
  10. Do not exercise vigorously just before bed. If you are the type of person who is aroused by exercise, it may be best to exercise late in the afternoon (preferably an aerobic workout, like running or walking). Some studies have shown that exercise right before bed is not as bad as once thought, unless you are the type of person who becomes more alert with exercise.
  11. Does your pet sleep with you? This, too, may cause arousals from either allergies or their movements in the bed. Thus, Fido and Kitty may be better off on the floor than on your sheets.

* It may take several weeks after implementing good sleep hygiene principles to see improvement. Good sleep hygiene can have a tremendous impact upon your life. You should wake up feeling refreshed and alert, and you should generally not feel sleepy during the day. If this is not the case and you’re having persistent insomnia it is very important to consider that you may have an unrecognized sleep disorder. Sound sleep is critical to quality of life. If you do have concerns about having a sleep disorder or if you have other questions about sleep, contact your primary health care physician or a sleep specialist.

Internet Resources

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Strives to increase awareness of sleep disorders in public and professional communities

NIH - National Center on Sleep Disorders Research
National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Research Professional Education Patient and Public Information Communications, National ...

SleepNet

Provides descriptions of sleep disorders, links to sleep and research information, and community forums

Talk About Sleep, Inc.
Service organization dedicated to information and awareness regarding sleep issues.

The Sleep Site
Sleep Apnea, Snoring, Narcolepsy, Insomnia and... HOW ARE SLEEP PROBLEMS AFFECTING YOU? ... Enter these realms of The Sleep Site to alert yourself to sleep disorders and their impact on your life. ...

Sleep Disorder Channel
Your Sleep Disorder Community. Your source for information on diagnosis and treatment for such conditions as, Insomnia, Bruxism, Restless Leg Syndrome ...

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