A few days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and noticed a dozen posts such as “Sleep?” (after they woke up two hours after falling asleep), “Wish I could sleep…”, and “Dear sleep, I wish you would visit me…” These posts caught my attention, not because they were something new, but because I never saw so many posts in my newsfeed in a single day.
Throughout my life I have experienced similar issues with sleep. I would stay up for hours playing video games, as I was dreading going to work the next day, or I would lie in bed tossing and turning (like the old Bobby Lewis song – later covered by Peter Criss of KISS on a solo album) thinking about the girl that got away. This led me to find a better way to sleep.
However, enough about me. Are you experiencing problems with sleep? If so, perhaps you’re wondering why you and so many others having problems sleeping? To figure this out, we need to start with why sleep is so essential, what is sleep hygiene, and why should you care about it?
Why is sleep important?
Sleep gives our bodies and minds time for repair. An article from Authority Nutrition “10 Reasons Why Sleep Is Important”:
- Poor sleep can make you fat
- Good sleepers tend to eat fewer calories
- Good sleep can improve concentration
- Good sleep can maximize athletic performance
- Poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke
- Sleep affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk
- Poor sleep is linked to depression
- Sleep improves your immune function
- Poor sleep is linked to inflammation
- Sleep affects emotions and social interactions
Without healthy sleeping habits, our bodies cannot recharge properly. This may lead to feeling drowsy, having difficulty making decisions, and craving unhealthy foods. (ResMed) Rebecca Reh, of Harvard University, posits four possible reasons why we need sleep (Tuk: Advancing Better Sleep) :
- Recovery – rest for the body, cell growth, housekeeping for the body
- Protection – keeping quiet and still reduces risk from predators
- Energy regulation – we useless energy when asleep
- Memory consolidation – formation of long-term memories and learning
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is another term for “good sleeping habits.” The Centre for Clinical Interventions pamphlet notes that getting good sleep is essential and encourages us to lie down only when we feel “sleepy.” If you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something boring or calming – not stimulating.
Other tips include:
- Avoid stimulating drinks or foods like caffeine, alcohol (known generally as a depressant) and nicotine for 4-6 hours before going to sleep
- Use your “sleep space” just for sleep – it for other things makes it harder for your mind/body to associate the space with sleep
- Avoid naps
- If they are part of your normal routine, try keeping to one nap per day and for less than an hour
- Develop a sleep ritual (more on this later) to remind your mind/body that it’s time for sleep
- Take a hot bath (or shower) up to two hours before bedtime
- This will raise your body temperature, and as your body cools down (your boy associates temperature drop with sleep)
- Avoid watching the clock – this will cause anxiety and make it harder to sleep
- Use a sleep diary (example)
- Tracking how/when you sleep, and what makes it harder to fall and stay asleep may be helpful
- Exercise does more than keep you healthy. It tires your body, which helps you, sleep. However, try to avoid strenuous exercise within 4 hours of going to sleep
- A balanced diet, as we know, is not only good for your overall health, but also aids in sleep – your body is more “in tune” with your regimen
- The right space for sleeping: items that reinforce more restful sleep
- Cooler room temperature
- Curtains or room-darkening blinds
- Using earplugs or an eye-mask
- A day that is interrupted because of poor sleep may push you into a vicious cycle of repeated poor sleep. To avoid this, try to keep the day’s activities as normal as possible – even when you slept poorly the night before
So, why do so many people have sleep problems?
If you ask friends, family, coworkers or random strangers why they have sleep problems, you’ll probably get as many answers as the number of people you ask. Here are some of the answers I heard recently: thoughts about all the things to do tomorrow (next week, etc.), money (or lack thereof), medical issues (e.g. pain or a loved one’s poor health), sleep apnea, snoring (or a partner’s snoring), nightmares, trauma (past, present and/or perceived or future) or other mental health concerns.
Common sleep disorders:
Insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders, affects upwards of 1/3 of Americans, and 1/3 of those suffer with chronic insomnia. The main cause is due to change in routine throughout the day. Insomnia is linked with pain, nausea, shortness of breath, depression and anxiety. Sleep Apnea, also a common sleep disorder, which is characterized by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during the sleep cycle. The causes for sleep apnea include relaxing of the muscles in the back of the throat, not allowing enough air to get through the airwaves. Restless leg syndrome appears at night when resting. The cause of this disorder is largely unknown, but appears to include a genetic component.
For most sleep disorders, it is recommended that you seek medical attention from a trained physician.
What can I do today about my sleep problems?
First, map out what you learned here. Do you practice healthy sleep hygiene? If not, then why not?
Second, what is your routine to wind down your day? Do you have such a routine? A good bedtime routine may look like this:
- Shut down electronics/media (television, phone, tablet, book, magazine, etc.)
- Get tomorrow ready (i.e. set up coffee, put dishes in dishwasher, etc.)
- Shut off all lights, check/lock doors
- Take medications if applicable
- Go to bathroom
- Brush teeth/fluoride rinse
- Go to sleeping space/bedroom
- Check/turn on alarm clock
- Pray, meditate or engage in a relaxation exercise (deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization or mindfulness technique)
NOTE: when starting a new routine, it may take you several attempts before you successfully adapt to the new pattern
Healthy sleep is essential to a thriving life. Practicing good sleep habits will make us more attentive, maximizes performance (physical and mental), improves immune functioning and aids our mental well-being. There are many possible reasons for poor sleep, including medical concerns, mental health issues, and poor sleep hygiene. Our bodies know the difference between healthy and poor sleep, which affects us each day. Practicing good sleep hygiene helps us enjoy healthier minds and bodies, essential for mental health. To ensure more restful sleep, avoid stimulants and depressants (coffee, alcohol and nicotine) before going to sleep helps, nap only if necessary and even then for less than an hour a day, and keep your sleep space for sleep. Good sleep IS possible with a little work.
If you or a loved one are experiencing sleep issues, I can help. Cont act me to discuss how you, too, can have better sleep.
Further resources to help with sleep issues: