Whomever coined the phrase, “sleep like a baby” obviously has never had a baby. If you have children you know that newborns often wake every 2 hours to feed and many infants require a lot of creative techniques from their sleep deprived parents to finally go down to sleep. So why is a good night’s sleep so elusive to us as adults? Most problems, apart from medical sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy, can resolve with proper sleep hygiene. Just like you maintain good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth at least twice a day, avoiding sweet foods, flossing and going to your dentist every 6 months to a year, did you know that sleep also requires maintenance? Adults still require on average of 8 hours of sleep a night. As we age, the amount of sleep requirement may decrease, but our body does not function well without a dedicated time to sleep. Research has shown that children who do not have the proper amount of sleep will often perform worse in school, have behavioral problems, and in severe cases can limit physical growth. Adults with poor sleep not only exhibit daytime sleepiness, but have difficulty concentrating and decreased work or home productivity. Poor sleep can even lower the immune system, which is our body’s ability to combat sickness.
Here are some helpful tips from the American Sleep Association (www.sleepassociation.org) on maintaining good sleep hygiene for adults:
- Have a regular sleep schedule
Our bodies love routines. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even during weekends if possible. Eventually your body will conform to the schedule.
- Avoid naps unless necessary. If you need to nap, keep it under 30 minutes. If you sleep longer than that, you may have problems going to sleep later.
- No screens in bed!
Don’t watch TV, work on your laptop, post photos on Instagram, like anything on Facebook, etc. on your phone, tablet or any type of screen in bed. Research shows that exposure to screens such as these is stimulating to the brain and can lead to poor sleep. The bed should be reserved for sleeping and sex!
- Don’t drink caffeine in the evening. Try to limit coffee, tea or other drinks with caffeine in the evening if you have trouble sleeping. Warning: “decaf” tea and coffee still contain caffeine, just not as much as your typical coffee or tea, and energy drinks will often contain about the same amount of caffeine (if not more) than a venti triple shot at the neighborhood coffee shop.
- Make your bedroom a sleep mecca.
Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Kick Fido the dog out of your room if he keeps waking you up in the night. Invest in room darkening curtains if needed.
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes as well as medications that may be stimulating before bed. Alcohol interferes with the normal sleep cycle. Although a glass of wine may help put you to sleep, your sleep is less restful and fragmented. Alcohol blocks REM sleep, which is the restorative part of your sleep cycle, and commonly leads to frequent awakenings. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which increases your trips to the bathroom at night, keeping you awake.
- Exercise. Exercise promotes continuous sleep. Avoid heavy exercise right before bedtime, which can release endorphins and keep you from going to sleep.
- When you can’t sleep, here are some things you can do to:
- Don’t watch the clock
- Don’t freak out that you are freaking out because you can’t sleep
- Meditate, sit in a dark room
- Take a warm bath or shower
- Use a noisemaker with “white noise” or a fan to keep noise from disturbing you
Remember, practice makes perfect. If you have a bad night, just keep up these helpful hints on sleep hygiene. If you forget to brush your teeth, just brush it when you remember. If you continue to have problems, talk to your doctor. Happy sleeping!
By Esther Cheung-Phillips, MD