by Dr. Erin Cheatum
Around 30% of adults in the US report getting 6 hours of sleep or less a night3. While of course we are all unique, research shows the average adult needs 7-9 hours a night. Kids and teenagers need even more sleep! If you aren’t waking up feeling rested, chances are you aren’t getting enough good quality sleep.
With work, kids, and life it can be difficult to prioritize sleep, but your body and brain need sufficient sleep. Not getting enough sleep can cause decreased concentration, increased distractibility, incoordination, and, lowered motivation. It makes sense, when you are tired it is hard to concentrate and get work done. Missing out on sleep for a night or two may reduce productivity at work and home, which you might think isn’t such a big deal but, lack of sleep over a long period of time has a huge impact on mental and physical health. Long-term insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, reduced immune function, poor mental health, and all-cause mortality1.
I always recommend that people start with the basics. Much like it is common knowledge that eating more vegetables is a healthy eating habit, there are healthy sleeping habits too! These habits help improve sleep quality and can help you get to sleep faster.
Healthy sleep habits
- Give yourself a bedtime
- Wake up at the same time, even on weekends
- Making sure your room is cool and dark
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine
- If you have been trying to sleep for 20 minutes or more, get up. Avoid associating the bed with anything other than sleep and sex.
Going to sleep at the same time every night helps train your mind and body to get tired. Having the same bedtime routine is another way wind down and prepare for sleep. If you have been going to bed at variable times, and you suddenly initiate a bedtime, it can take a little while for your body to adjust. This is especially true if the time you set for yourself is greater than 30 minutes earlier then when you usually go to bed.
Being consistent with what time you wake up can help you feel tired at night. This includes weekends. I know it can feel like a sacrifice to give up sleeping in on weekends. If you sleep in late on Sunday, it can interfere with your ability to fall asleep Sunday night which in turn can make waking up Monday morning more difficult. There is also a mentality that we can “catch up” on sleep lost throughout the week, but studies show that just isn’t the case. One study out of Harvard Medical School found reaction times and mental focus remain low even after a “catch up” night of 10 hours after 2 weeks of getting about 6 hours of sleep2.
Already have good sleep habits? The following are other recommendations to improve sleep:
Avoid screens before bed
Avoiding screens for at least 30 minutes before bed can help you to go to sleep easier. Blue light emitted from screens of smart phones, TVs, and computer screens block your body’s production of Melatonin. Melatonin is one of the hormones responsible for making you feel sleepy. If you have to be on a computer for work or school up until bedtime, try using programs such as f.lux that block blue light.
Caffeine after 12:00-2:00pm can interfere with your ability to get tired at night. Try limiting your caffeinated beverages to the morning only.
Physical activity helps burn excess energy, improves mood, and reduces stress. Daily exercise can help you feel tired at night. Just don’t exercise right before bed as it can be a stimulant.
If you wake in the middle of the night and find you can’t quiet your thoughts, try keeping a journal / paper and pen beside your bed. When you write down your thoughts it can help clear them from your mind. There are also apps like calm.com that have sleep meditations that can help train you to quiet those active thoughts.
Alcohol can make you sleepy as it is a sedative, however it decreases sleep quality. Meaning you might fall asleep faster after a glass a wine, but you will wake up easier through the night as it causes you to sleep lighter.
If you are consistently waking through the night because your partner is snoring, it might be worth trying to sleep in separate rooms. Snoring can also be a sign of Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is obstructed throughout the night. Not treating it increases risks of serious heart conditions.
It can be difficult to wake up in the dark during the winter months. Sitting under a full spectrum light for about 30 minutes in the morning can be helpful. The full spectrum light in the morning helps reset your body’s circadian rhythm and improve morning alertness.
Whether to take an Epsom salt bath or a scoop of calcium/magnesium powder in water before bed the magnesium is relaxing and can help you fall asleep.
Ultimately, you want to get in for a visit if you are not sleeping well. Don’t wait to address this challenge in your life, because avoiding it only makes it worse. At AIM, we are here for you and are excited to be your guide to a more restful night’s sleep.
- Center for Disease (CDC) Sleep and Chronic Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html Accessed 1/29/2018
- Cohen, D.A., Wang, W, Wyatt, J.K., Kronauer, R.E., Dijk, D.J., Czeisler, C.A., and E.B. Klerman. (2010) Uncovering Residual Effects of Chronic Sleep Loss on Human Performance. Science Traslational Medicine 2 (14) pp 14ra3
- Masaki (2016) Insufficient sleep: Evaluation and management. UptoDate. Accessed 1/29/2018