In a recent WebMD poll, nearly half of all respondents said they “almost never” got a “sound night’s sleep.” Think of that — 48 percent of us can’t even achieve what should come naturally, a refreshing night of sleep!
Many of those who responded “almost never” could improve their chances of getting a “sound night’s sleep” if they merely adjusted some routines and environmental factors militating against their sleep ability.
For instance, even the blue light emanating from an alarm clock could interfere with your production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Blue light sends a signal to the brain that it’s daytime and thus shuts down or impedes your melatonin production. Turn the alarm clock around or cover the blue LED lights with black tape (ditto with the DVR, etc.). If you awake in the middle of the night and immediately look to your clock to check the time, hide the clock. Knowing you’re awake at 2 or 3 a.m. and have to get up in a couple of hours is only going to make it harder to get back to sleep.
Caffeine comes in many forms, including chocolate, and caffeine is a known sleep-impeder. Noon is a good shut-off time for anything caffeine-related. Naps too are best kept at bay at least eight hours before bedtime, and if you nap, it shouldn’t be for more than 20 minutes — what’s known as a “power nap.”
Also, don’t use your bedroom for work, TV watching or talking on the phone. Your bed should be reserved for sleep and sex. Otherwise, your body can get confused and not realize you’re on the bed for sleep purposes. Pillows are important too. Make sure your pillow isn’t too flat or too fat. It should support your neck in a neutral position — not too elevated or too depressed.
Ban the pets in your bedroom if you can. They can bring elements to your bed that can cause sleep difficulties, including fleas, fur, dander and pollen. Cover your mattress for further protection from dust mites and other allergy agents.
Your routine is important too. Go to bed and arise at the same time every day, including weekends. Try to get 10 to 30 minutes in the sun each day to set your sleep/awake clock (called circadian rhythm).
Avoid heavy meals and alcohol at least four hours before bedtime. If you need a snack, carbohydrate- and tryptophan-rich foods are good. They should help you doze off. Crackers and cheese might do the trick. Stop drinking anything, including water, at least two hours before retiring. Otherwise, you may find yourself making frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom.
About two to three hours before hitting the sack, dim the lights and avoid electronic devices such as televisions, tablets, computers and cellphones. Go to a darkened room and use a 15-watt lightbulb to read. This will help trigger your brain to start producing melatonin.
These are all good, time-honored, proven tips, but if you continue to experience sleep problems despite your best efforts at good sleep hygiene, then it’s time to seek professional help.