Benjamin Franklin said, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” That may or may not be true, but it’s certainly not helpful for the 70 million Americans who struggle to fall asleep whatever time they go to bed. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can make your life miserable. Even worse, they hurt your health. A long list of health problems are worsened by sleep deprivation: high blood pressure, weight gain, risk of heart disease and diabetes, weakened immune responses, and even an increased risk of accidents. If you don’t sleep well, your brain doesn’t work at peak efficiency. You’ll be more forgetful and struggle to concentrate, and your mood is likely to be affected, especially if you suffer from anxiety and depression. The good news is simple behavior and lifestyle changes may be all you need to solve sleep problems. This is often called sleep hygiene. Let’s look at some techniques that can help you get the 7-9 hours of deep and restful sleep the average adult needs.
Develop a Sleep Routine and Stick to It
You have an internal clock called the circadian rhythm. It regulates your metabolism, hormone system, and sleep-wake cycles. Your body tells you when it wants to go to sleep and wake up, and ignoring it is one of the biggest causes of sleep problems.
You can adjust your circadian rhythm. When you travel to a different timezone, you get jet lag and want to sleep and wake up at the wrong times. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel terrible for a few days, but you adapt eventually as your circadian rhythm reacts to new circumstances.
But your body can’t adapt fast enough if you never sleep on a consistent schedule. You’ll get jet-lag symptoms all the time. You won’t be able to fall asleep when you want, and you’ll spend most of the morning feeling like a zombie.
The solution is to develop a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Prepare for sleep and go to bed at the same time every day. Wake up at the same time too. That includes weekends. It’s counter-productive to get up early during the week and sleep late at the weekends. A consistent schedule is better for you long-term than the occasional Sunday-morning sleep in.
Sleep in a Cool, Dark Space
You might think that a warm and cozy bedroom is best for sleep, but the evidence shows that people sleep better when they’re cool. Your body naturally cools as it winds down and prepares for sleep. An overly warm environment keeps you awake. Anywhere between 60 F and 67 F is best, depending on the individual.
You should also make sure that your room is as dark as possible. No light should leak through the curtains and the TV should be off. If you find that a lot of light comes in from the street, consider black-out curtains.
Four Things You Shouldn’t Do Before Going to Bed
You’ve got a schedule, and you’ve created the perfect cool and dark space, but you still can’t fall asleep. The culprit might be what you do before you go to bed. Here are four behaviors to avoid in the hours leading up to bedtime.
- Eating heavy meals, especially spicy or fatty foods. You will struggle to sleep if your digestive system is churning away after a large meal. Also, gastric reflux is a significant cause of sleeplessness, so you want to avoid eating anything that can cause acid indigestion or heartburn.
- Drinking coffee. Most people know that drinking coffee before bed is unwise, but those who are especially sensitive to caffeine can be kept awake by the latte they sipped mid-afternoon. Try reducing your caffeine intake and see if it helps with your sleep.
- Drinking alcohol. Alcohol consumed before bed has been shown to disrupt the sleep cycle, so it’s best avoided. A small nightcap might help you fall asleep but can disturb your rest later in the night.
- Using screens. The blue light of a phone or tablet screen upsets your circadian rhythm, which relies on clues from your environment. To your body, blue light is daylight. Plus, the stimulation of playing a game or chatting on Facebook makes it hard for your brain to wind down. Avoid screens before bedtime if you can.
As a general rule, try to avoid behaviors that stimulate or stress your body or mind in an hour or so before you go to bed.
Poor Sleep and Health Problems
Health problems such as obstructive sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),and arthritis are often accompanied by insomnia or disturbed sleep. Your doctor should be able to advise you about equipment to help with your condition, but here are a few suggestions for improving your sleeping environment.
- If you suffer from sleep apnea, consider using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which can help to keep your airways open and mitigate the rapid sleep-wake cycle that plays havoc with your sleep cycle.
- If you struggle to find a restful and pain-free sleeping position, an adjustable bed might be just what you need. Home hospital beds feature head, foot, and other adjustments that support your body in different positions. They can help with GERDS, circulatory conditions, sleep apnea, and more.
- Your mattress is as important as your bed for comfort. If you struggle to sleep on a traditional spring mattress, switch it out for a foam mattress that adapts better to your body’s shape.
Sleep deprivation is no joke. It impacts every part of your life, from health to work to relationships with family and friends. Hopefully, our suggestions will help you sleep soundly, but don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional if you suffer from long-term insomnia and sleep disturbances.
Aaron Goldsmith is the owner of Transfer Master, a company that has built electric adjustable hospital beds for the home and medical facility since 1993. He started with a simple goal that hospital beds should allow wheelchair users to transfer independently in and out of bed. 25 years later, his customers are still at the center of everything he does. For more information, be sure to visit transfermaster.com or contact the team via email.