Don’t Shortchange Your Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) estimates that one-third of all Americans wake up feeling un-refreshed, and a similar number wake up often during the night. NSF also says 21 percent of us wake up too early and then find it hard, if not impossible, to get back to sleep.

Many of these columns and posts have discussed how snoring and its evil second cousin, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), cause both nighttime and daytime difficulties for millions of Americans. Millions of others, moreover, have problems that aren’t quite so severe but still lead to the symptoms and consequences discussed in the first paragraph, and so fare we haven’t even mentioned insomnia, which is the biggest sleep-related complaint in America.

What to do to get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed?

Probably the biggest favor you can do yourself is to reconnect to the farm mentality and sleep routine that guided humanity until just about the time of the Great Depression (curious alignment, eh?). You should adjust your routine, your senses and your approach to life to thinking of bedtime when it gets dark and thenwaking up when it gets sunny.

Of course, this is just a general guideline, and many of our jobs (see Great Depression above) have hours that militate against a farm approach. Still, too many of us try to burn the candles at both ends, staying up late watching TV and then getting up early and swilling coffee and other energy drinks to make it through the day.

Forget the coffee and other energy boosters. Instead, you can adopt what’s called good sleep hygiene, a set of habits that will help you sleep — and sleep well to boot.

Let’s look at some of these habits:

First, don’t drink any coffee or alcohol within hours of bedtime. The caffeine in the coffee will work against your sleeping well, even falling to sleep, and the alcohol, though it will help you fall asleep, will also depress your metabolism and prevent you from falling into the most restful sleep pattern, which is called REM (rapid eye movement).

Like our farm forebears before rural electrification (see Great Depression above) who had to deal with dim sources of light at night, which aided in their falling-asleep routine, We should take a cue from them and avoid computer monitors, smartphones, tablets and, yes, televisions before sleeping. The bright light from these devices is a signal to our senses to stay awake. Try dimming the devices’ screens if you simply must check email or do some late electronic work.

One last trick is to take a hot bath in the winter and a cold bath in the summer a few hours before going to bed. Your body is used to a drop in temperature as you go to sleep, and a shower will simulate this experience for you.

There are several other good hygiene tips and tricks, but start with these and see how well you do.

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