Small Changes Can Help

If you spend your nights half-asleep and your days half-awake like millions of other Americans and then shrug it off as normal, please be advised that it’s not normal and can be detrimental to both your mental and physical well-being.

“People have to understand that sleep is one of the basics of good health, along with diet and exercise. So it’s important that they set aside enough time to get an adequate amount of sleep,” says Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, Medical Director of Sleep Health Centers and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. “I also tell them to adopt an overall healthy lifestyle. People who are fit, who exercise regularly, and who are in good shape sleep better.”

As Dr. Epstein mentions, many sleep problems spring from people’s life choices. Snoring, for instance, almost always accompanies obesity. So losing weight and getting in shape are obvious starters to help you sleep.

“People who are able to look at their sleep systematically, determine the factors contributing to their problem, and tackle these things in a program that makes sense to them can be very, very successful at overcoming the problem,” says Stephen Amira, a clinical psychologist with a specialty in sleep disorders.

In addition to losing weight and getting in shape, there are other small changes that can help:

  • Shun alcohol, tobacco and caffeine four to six hours before bedtime (caffeine is also found in chocolate and some medications)
  • Make your bedroom sleep-inducing by turning off all the lights, eliminating sounds and other distractions
  • Prepare for sleep with a routine of relaxation, for instance by reading, listening to soft music or taking a warm bath (you may want to read with blue-blocking glasses on to increase melatonin production)
  • Lighten up on evening meals and watch what you consume — and don’t eat too closely to bedtime
  • Nap early or not at all — a nap in the afternoon is fine, but one at 7 p.m. could push back your internal sleep clock
  • And speaking of your internal clock, go to bed each night at the same time and arise the next day at the same time

These are some tips you can undertake on your own to get better sleep at night, but in the long run, you may want to see a sleep professional for help beyond what you can do yourself.

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