What's the secret? Sleep.
According to the National Institutes of Health, chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders may impact up to 70 million Americans (almost a 1/4 of the population) and cost up to $16 billion in healthcare costs and $60 billion in lost productivity.
Are you one of those people who faces the challenge of falling asleep or staying asleep several times a week? Have you tried everything? Well, even if you think you have tried everything, perhaps you may want to keep reading this post to see what strategies you may be missing. If you try these strategies and still have trouble sleeping then you should discuss this with your primary care provider to make sure there are not biological reasons, and not just behavioral reasons, for your sleep problem.
Good sleep is as essential for health as is good nutrition and physical activity. Getting good sleep means going to bed when you are tired, falling asleep within 15-30 minutes, staying asleep for 6-8 hours, and waking up feeling rested. Good sleep improves mental clarity which makes you much less susceptible to accidents, improves your judgement, and keeps your memory sharp.
Organs function better with sleep so you are at lower risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and other illness. Good sleep also gives your immune system some fighting power so you resist common infections like a cold or the flu. And sleep puts you at lower risk for depression and other mood disorders. And best of all, good sleep may keep you slender and keep you looking younger. You ever notice how much older you look when you wake up from a night of lousy sleep? "You look tired", is considered to be an insult because of what it reflects about how old we are looking that day.
Sleep and Mental Health
Sleep has been the bane of my existence ever since I was a child and I have spent a lot of my life trying to sleep when my body has other ideas; an annoying side effect of having manic depression. I have spent a lot of time researching sleep and trying strategies that work. Sleep behaviors are on the list of symptoms for both depression and mania. Lack of sleep triggers symptoms of mental illnesses and makes existing symptoms worse so getting enough sleep is very important to the mental health of someone living with any mental disorder such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
The latest research suggests that a sleep routine that keeps our circadian rhythms (internal clock) on a regular schedule, also keeps the mind on an even keel. Lack of sleep makes people more susceptible to illness and more prone to cause intentional and non-intentional injuries. Driving sleepy is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Anyone who has ever had a late night out knows how hard it is for the brain to work the next day.
Tips for A Good Night's Sleep
When you can't sleep it can be very frustrating. You toss, turn, get up, lie down and stare at the ceiling knowing you are going to wake up tired and functioning at less than your best. By developing a sleep routine; and at a minimum your sleep routine should include the following:
- Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning. Everyday. No changes on weekends. This sets your internal time clock (circadian rhythms) and helps keep your moods on an even keel and your brain sharp in the morning.
- Give yourself 30 - 60 minutes to prepare for bed and find a way of developing a habit in terms of the sequencing of your preparation. The point is to slow down the body so it is ready to go to bed. For example, you could start by taking your medications (in particular, medications that make you drowsy) so they have some time to take effect before getting into bed? Or if they are quick acting you may want to take them last. Make sure you have set your alarm or put a glass of water by the bed. It may sound simple but urinating right before bed decreases the likelihood of needing to get up in the middle of the night to make a trip to the bathroom.
- A calming down activity such as meditation or yoga or reading (a calm book:). Drinking a cup of warm milk (which has naturally occurring ingredients that make people sleepy) or chamomile tea - which also calms - is also helpful. Turn off the TV and put away the phone and the laptop so your brain can slow down and disengage. Some people find a bath calming. Others find a shower either calming or stimulating so find the activities that work best for you.
- Turn down the heat as research has also shown that we sleep better in cool temperatures so make sure to turn off/down the heating in your room. A dark room also encourages sleep and if you cannot create a really dark room then sleep with a blindfold on. TVs should be banned from the bedroom. So should laptop computers and your cellphone, if you are having a hard time with distractions.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can keep you awake, especially if had in the afternoon or close to bedtime. And although alcohol may help you fall asleep it interrupts your REM sleep so that you may wake during the night and even if you don't the quality of your sleep is poor and you wake up feeling less rested. You don't need to have gotten drunk to have a sleep hangover from alcohol.
- Be physically active everyday, if possible, but at least 3 -4 times a week will do. For those who have trouble sleeping it is better if you exercise in the morning, because the body takes some time to calm down when you exercise so if you do it too close to your bedtime, your body may be to revved up to fall asleep.
Want to Know More?
If you want to know more about sleep and mental well-being and find evidence-based strategies for improving sleep, then check out a new publication by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK, which has published a free downloadable book on sleep called, 'Sleep Matters: The Impact of Sleep on Health and Well-Being'. The National Institutes of Health also publishes a sleep guide called, 'Your Guide to Healthy Sleep' is available free. For more information on circadian rhythms: Inside LIfe Science: How our bodies keep time.
If after trying these simple steps, you still have trouble sleeping then see your medical provider or contact a sleep clinic.