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Sound Advice for Sounder Sleep

Do you wake up tired every morning?

Do you often feel groggy during the day?

Have you forgotten the last time you had a good night’s sleep?

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. A recent Gallup poll found that Americans sleep an average of just 6.8 hours a night, with 40% of us getting six hours of sleep or less. Unfortunately, as the National Sleep Foundation reminds us, adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep for optimal health.

Soldiering on through your sleep issues is not a long-term solution. Poor or insufficient sleep affects your judgment, mood, memory, and ability to retain information. It also makes you more accident prone. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is a factor in some 100,000 car crashes each year, resulting in around 800 fatalities and 50,000 injuries. What’s more, chronic sleep issues have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and a depressed immune response.

Circadian Rhythms

Your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a natural 24-hour cycle called the circadian rhythm. You can think of this as your biological clock. Circadian rhythms regulate the timing of basic body functions such as hunger, digestion, body temperature, and sleep. Normally, these rhythms work in sync with the day/night cycle. After dark, your body produces the hormone melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy. In the morning, light tells the body to stop making melatonin, so you can wake up and go about your day. Sleep issues can occur if your circadian rhythm is not lined up with the day/night cycle.

Sleeping Pills Are Not the Answer

Popping a pill may seem like an easy fix for sleep issues but sleep aids should be used sparingly. Prescription sleeping pills should only be used under a doctor’s supervision and for no longer than 30 days. These drugs may have dangerous side effects and can interact with other prescription medications. They can also lead to physical and psychological dependency and cause withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop taking them. Long term use of over-the-counter sleep aids is also dangerous. Over time, these drugs affect learning and memory and have been linked to dementia in seniors.

Try these tips for better sleep

Get some sun

Daily exposure to sunlight, or at least bright indoor lights, can reinforce your natural sleep rhythm. Go outside for a few minutes 30 – 60 minutes after you wake up in the morning to let your body know it’s day time. (Don’t stare at straight at the sun, just enjoy being outdoors). If it’s overcast, try staying out a little longer, or turn on the lights in your home.

Switch off electronic devices at night

The blue light emitted by smartphones, TVs, and computers can throw off your circadian rhythm, disrupting melatonin production. Turn off the TV, bright lights, and electronic devices an hour or two before bed. If you must be on your devices that late, install an app that blocks blue light on your cellphone and computer. Use incandescent or red bulbs to light your bedroom rather than LED or compact fluorescent bulbs.

Avoid caffeine after 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, blocks the secretion of melatonin, and stays in your blood for 6 to 8 hours.

Don’t nap for too long

30 minute naps can be refreshing but longer naps may impact the duration and quality of nighttime sleep.

Keep consistent hours

Consistency helps regulate your natural sleep/wake cycle. Try to go to sleep and wake up at a similar time every day, including weekends.

Try natural supplements

Try a low dose of melatonin to see how you tolerate it and slowly increase it as needed. Plant extracts such as ginkgo biloba, valerian root, and lavender have a calming effect and can help you relax. Some people find that magnesium, glycine, or L-theanine help them sleep more deeply. Don’t take more than one type of supplement at a time so you can determine what helps you and always talk to your doctor before trying any supplement.

Nix the nightcaps

Drinking alcohol before bed suppresses melatonin production and increases the incidence of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns. It also blocks REM sleep which is thought to play a role in learning, memory, and mood.

Make your bedroom more restful

Reduce noise and light as much as possible and keep your room cool ― somewhere around 60°-70°. Consider black-out curtains or eyeshades. If noise is a problem, try ear plugs or a white noise machine. Resist the temptation to keep a TV in your bedroom and try to use your bed only for sleep or sex to help strengthen the association between sleep and your bedroom. Invest in a new mattress every five to eight years. A poor quality mattress can contribute to chronic back pain.

Don’t eat too late

Eating a big meal right before bed can give you heartburn and impedes the natural release of melatonin. Try drinking something warm, such as warm milk or caffeine-free tea, to help you relax. Then, be sure to go to the bathroom right before bed.

Take a warm bath

Research shows that ten minutes or more in warm bath, around 104° – 109°degrees, can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

Experiment with NDSR

Coined by Stanford neurologist and sleep specialist Dr. Andrew Huberman, NDSR stands for Non-Sleep Deep Rest. This refers to a variety of relaxation techniques that help calm and relax your mind and prepare you for sleep. Meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga nidra, or breathing exercises are all examples of NDSR. You can find a variety of free relaxation videos on YouTube by searching for these terms. Think of these videos as something to lie down and listen to rather than watch.

Exercise regularly — but not before bed

Exercise is good for your general health and can help improve sleep. However, it boosts epinephrine and adrenaline, hormones that increase alertness. In addition, the body needs to cool off before sleep. It’s best to work out no later than three hours before bed time

What if you wake up in the middle of the night?

Waking up once or twice in the middle of the night is perfectly normal, especially if you need to answer nature’s call. If you haven’t fallen back asleep after 20 minutes, don’t stare at the clock. It will only stress you out, making it harder to fall back asleep. Instead, get out of bed and do something distracting but calming, such as reading or an NDSR. Do not turn on your TV or computer.