What’s Ruining Your Sleep?

If you have trouble sleeping, a bevy of life-style and other factors can be contributing to your woes, including things like what you eat, drink and think.

A lot of people’s sleep problems can be traced to bad sleep hygiene factors and also to carry-overs from their daily lives, including stress, worries and depression.

A telling survey by the online medical advice site WebMD asked people how often they get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, that total being what the body needs to completely rejuvenate itself. Only 18 percent answered “almost every night,” with 16 percent saying “at least four nights a week.” Some 31 percent replied “just a couple of nights a week,” while the largest percentage — 35 — answered “never.”

While sleep disorders certainly factor into people’s inability to get the proper amount of sleep, more often it’s a result of one’s daily life — stress and worries — and poor sleep-hygiene habits.

Figuring that we all face daytime issues of work and coping, what are some good sleep-hygiene habits that can help us counterbalance the emotional and physical tolls of daily living?

First, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, even if just a brisk walk. Better yet, take that brisk walk out in the sunshine so you can help set your circadian rhythm clock. You need the sun to help your system understand that when it’s dark out, it’s time to produce maltonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone.

Stop drinking caffeinated beverages by 2 p.m., so your body has time to get the caffeine out of your system before bed.

Likewise, don’t eat any big meals within three or four hours of bedtime. If you’re hungry, eat a light snack but not something that’s fatty or spicy that will wreak havoc on your digestion.

Avoid alcohol too well before bedtime. While a nightcap or two can help you feel sleepy, when the alcohol wears off, you’ll likely wake up and have a hard time getting back to sleep.

Also, avoid all liquids well before retiring so you don’t have to arise often to go to the bathroom, which can obviously interrupt your night’s rest.

Electronic devices — TVs,computers, cell phones, tablets — should be avoided well before bedtime as well, as their light sources can interrupt your body’s melatonin production — and you do need melatonin for a good night’s sleep.

That brings up the question of your bedroom environment. Your bedroom should not have a radio or TV blaring, and you shouldn’t take a tablet or e-reader with you unless they have no backlight. Your bedroom environment should be dark and cool. A fan or other source of “white noise” can also help filter out barking dogs or other outside noises to help you sleep.

Finally, if you do awake at night, go to another room and start reading or have a light snack until you feel sleepy again. Don’t lie in bed staring at the clock.

Also, if you are having difficulties sleeping, keep what’s called a “sleep diary,” recording everything that happens throughout the day and at night so you and your doctor can connect the dots and come up with a plan for better sleep.

These steps can help you get your 7 to 8 hours of needed rejuvenation. But if you still find it difficult to sleep at night, consult your doctor or a sleep professional to get back on track.

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