The effects of poor, interrupted or irregular sleep range from the obvious of feeling tired and less productive, to the more surprising and concerning of heart disease and cognitive impairment. Sleep deprivation also reduces libido, leads to weight gain and increases anxiety and depression. What can we do to get more sleep to manage all of these negative side effects?
• Maintain a regular sleep routine - Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Ideally, your schedule will remain the same (+/- 20 minutes) every night of the week.
• Avoid naps, if possible - When we take naps, it decreases the amount of sleep that we need the next night which may cause sleep fragmentation and difficulty initiating sleep, and may lead to insomnia and sleep deprivation. However, naps of 20-30 minutes can be restorative.
• Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 15-20 minutes - If you find your mind racing, or worrying about not being able to sleep during the middle of the night, get out of bed, and sit in a chair in the dark. Do your mind racing in the chair until you are sleepy, then return to bed. No TV or internet during these periods! That will just stimulate your mind more.
• This is a good time to do some relaxation. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is particularly helpful to release tension and relax the body.
• Avoid all screens (e.g. TV, phone, e Reader, computer) for at least 1 hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by the screen reduces melatonin, our natural sleep inducing hormone, and can shift our circadian rhythms.
• Drink caffeinated drinks with caution - The effects of caffeine may last for several hours after ingestion. Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, use it only before noon. Cigarettes, alcohol, and over-the-counter medications may also cause fragmented sleep.
• Exercise regularly- If possible, exercise before 2 pm every day. Exercise promotes continuous sleep. Avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime. Rigorous exercise circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficulty initiating sleep.
• Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine - A warm bath/shower, meditation, or quiet time, read a book, listen to calming music, write.
If all of these tips sound overwhelming, don’t worry. Your sleep can be improved by implementing just a few. Which of the above do you think might be affecting your sleep the most? Start with that one for a week and see how it helps. Or you can start with a couple that seem easiest and go from there. Improving your sleep will positively affect many areas of your life and it’s worth changing a few habits to reap the benefits!