Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sleep Hygiene: 5 practical tips for more refreshing sleep

By Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D. Follow @VahabzadehMD

Sleep is an essential part of our lives. Unfortunately, a growing number of Americans are not getting enough quality sleep. Some 70 million Americans have diagnosable chronic sleep problems. Key symptoms include reduced daytime alertness and disturbed sleep at night.

The effects of poor sleep can impact every aspect of our lives. Lack of sleep has been associated with problems at work, difficulties in relationships, medical and mental conditions, and an overall reduced quality of life. While some of these problems would benefit from a visit to your doctor, there are practical tips you can try for improved sleep. In this post on “sleep hygiene,” I discuss a useful set of practices for better sleep.

1. Resist coffee & other caffeinated drinks close to bedtime.
Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake. Caffeine can be found in a range of products including coffee, tea, soft drinks, herbal supplements, and chocolate. Some people find it difficult to stop drinking coffee or soda. In that case, consider reduced or caffeine free versions. Also, drinking these products earlier in the day may reduce the effects of caffeine when it’s bedtime.

2. Don’t watch TV in bed.
Your body needs to associate your bed with sleep. Working, watching TV, or playing computer games in bed can disturb this association. This may lead to confusion for your body about what you want to do when you lie down in bed.

3. Keep your bedroom comfortable.
Make sure you have a suitable bed that’s comfortable; check the temperature of your bedroom; and remove any sources of bright lights or loud sounds. Bright lights close to bedtime can breakdown melatonin, a chemical which helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

4. Exercise!
Being physically active or exercising can help to tire you out so you fall asleep more easily. But you should not do any strenuous exercise right before bedtime because this may be counterproductive. If you want to exercise close to bedtime, try something relaxing like yoga.

5. Establish a sleep routine & stick to it.
Go to bed and wake up at the same times every night and day. Avoid daytime naps or staying up late and sleeping in on weekends.

If you’ve tried these tips and still struggle with sleep, you should talk to your doctor. Depression and anxiety can cause disturbances in sleep. Your primary care physician or a psychiatrist can help find a solution.