Today’s sleep experts in sleep disorders remind us that there are very important reasons why we’re supposed to sleep through about a third of our lifetimes. It’s because maintaining a healthy mind and body requires that we do so. The majority of people need seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Leading US medical authorities explain that several essential brain and body functions occur during sleep.
- The body performs a number of activities critical to your health during sleep, Cortisol and other hormones are regulated, which enable the body to efficiently manage against stress. During sleep, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is working to repair muscle tissue. And, insulin is at work regulating blood glucose as you sleep.
- The brain uses the sleep period to organize elements of the day’s events, sorting the significant from the insignificant, systematically storing the information to facilitate recall of long-term memories.
- Cellular activity during sleep includes turnover to eliminate cellular waste and thereby restore the immune system.
Ongoing sleep deficiency negatively impacts hormonal, cognitive, and other critical processes, affecting coordination, reaction time, and attentiveness. Insufficient sleep also elevates risk levels over time for diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression, and other serious health conditions.
Prioritizing sleep may require a change to healthier behaviors. If you are having trouble sleeping, the first step is to identify your obstacles to better sleep. Then, you can implement lifestyle remedies to overcome habits that are likely contributors to your sleep difficulty.
Here are some simple strategic changes you can incorporate into your daily routine to create an overall for improving your sleep quality and duration.
1. Caffeine intake during early afternoon hours
Especially closer to bedtime, consuming large amounts of caffeine can impair ability to fall asleep. This fact, in and of itself, is not really new information for most people.
UPDATED INFO: But, what many people with sleep issues do not know is that our most well-recognized US medical experts recommend that you start avoiding caffeine as early as ten hours prior to going to bed. This means, for example, that if you plan to go to bed at 10:00 pm, you should substitute that caffeinated soda or iced tea with lunch for a decaf alternative.
2. Eating a hearty dinner at 7:00 pm
Myth has it that a big meal makes people sleepy. But, current medical research caution against eating heavy meals during evening hours, advising that this habit can actually inhibit sleep. And, many of us have made the mistake of over-indulging at the summer barbeque, and afterward experiencing a night of less than comfortable, sound sleep.
UPDATED INFO: But, the real surprise to many is that today’s top medical authorities on this issue actually recommended that you not only avoid eating a big meal just prior to sleep, but that you avoid eating during the three hours before going to bed. For example, this means, that if you plan to go to sleep at 10:00 pm, then starting to eat dinner at 7:00 pm is actually too late. If you’ve been having trouble sleeping well, then starting dinner at an earlier time, so that dinner is finished by 7:00, may increase your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
3. Insufficient movement throughout the day
You’ve probably heard the very good advice that you should not exercise just before bedtime, as adrenaline increase can inhibit the body’s ability to wind down into a restful state. But, it may not occur to many people who have a sedentary lifestyle and sleep difficulties, that adopting a more active lifestyle promotes healthier sleep.
UPDATED INFORMATION: Schedule time into your daily routine for exercise. Or, if you need more flexibility than such scheduling permits, then commit yourself to finding several points through the day to do physical activity. If you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods, break away from the desk and walking around for at least ten to fifteen minutes, at least three times daily. This habit contributes to a healthier body, which naturally lends to improved sleep.
4. Occupied mind
If you’re a busy person with a mind that is still too active at late hours to disengage from racing thoughts and ideas that must not be lost, you may find that these mental activities are preventing you from getting the healthful sleep you will need in order to execute the ideas successfully.
UPDATED INFORMATION: The current expert medical advice is to maintain a journal, or at least a notepad, or even a voice recorder beside your bed. Use one of these tools to note your thoughts as they compel you. Then, you can fall back to sleep with the peace of mind that can only be had by knowing your mental treasures are not going to be lost from memory by morning.
A bit of additional, rather non-intuitive, but very interesting and effective advice, again from experts leading the field, for overcoming this particular sleep impediment—shift your thoughts to focusing on gratitude. That’s a lovely exercise which can, of course, yield an array of health and general benefits.
5. Worrying or feeling anxious about not sleeping
Typical frustrations people experience after failing to go to sleep can cause those with other sleep issues to find themselves feeling a sleep-inhibiting unease due to worrying that they might not be able to fall asleep at all.
UPDATED INFORMATION: If you have been in bed, waiting to fall asleep for twenty minutes or more, and you find yourself being kept awake by a restless sense of concern that you won’t be able to fall asleep, take action. Get out of bed, and do a relaxing activity until you begin to feel sleepy. Then, you can return to bed with confidence that you will fall to sleep.
6. Actively try to go to sleep
You may already be familiar with essential recommendations by medical experts for people with sleep difficulties. These of course include ways to make your sleep space more conducive to the passive activity of lying still and waiting for sleep to come. Such advice includes regulating the room temperature, getting a pillow or mattress that you find more comfortable, and blocking or removing even the smallest of melatonin-inhibiting light sources from your bedroom, among various other important measures.
UPDATED INFORMATION: An additional important recommendation you may not yet have discovered is the at first odd-seeming concept of managing sleep is to actively try to fall to sleep. The actual advice is, of course quite practical. The suggestion is simply to take a little time at the close of the day—at least ten minutes is recommended—to do a relaxing activity, like taking a warm, soothing bath, star-gazing through the window, or listening to some relaxing music.
General strategy for overcoming sleep difficulty
Remember that chronic sleep difficulty is not necessarily due to a single cause. Evaluate your habits and sleep environment, and try to identify what appear to you as the most likely contributors to the problem.
Then, experiment with the above suggested solutions, offered by some of the nation’s most knowledgeable physicians on sleep difficulties and disorders. Undertaking this simple general strategy for identifying a potential combination of factors that may be affecting your sleep quality and duration is a sound approach to making a few basic changes that can finally remedy persistent sleep problem(s).