Tips to Improve Your Sleep, Tonight

Dr. Nina Radcliff

Did you awaken this morning ready to rise and shine?  Did you feel well-rested? Or, did you (or did you want to) hit the snooze to linger longer as you transitioned from one state to another? 

Good news – there are simple steps you can take to have a good night’s sleep, starting tonight. 

The facts are that your daily sleep practices and habits are key and make a big difference between a restless night and restful slumber. These impact your sleep every night. Known as “sleep hygiene,” experts have identified key influences that can help you maximize the hours you spend sleeping – even if you experience sleep disturbances affected by insomnia, time changes or shift work. It’s important to have good practices and rituals that you undergo before bedtime. And, even if don’t have trouble getting your ZZZ’s, these influences can prevent developing future unhealthy sleep issues.

Get into the routine, daily.

A soothing, relaxing pre-sleep routine is very important. What you eat, drink and what activities you are involved with, as well as your surroundings, make a big difference with your sleep. Falling asleep generally occurs on a continuum, gradually over time- not as an abrupt transition. In other words, it doesn’t work like an on-off flip switch, but more like a dimmer, transitioning from one good state to another.  

Create a bedtime routine filled with relaxing activities

At least an hour prior to going to bed, try: playing soft music, curling up to read, a warm bath, prayer, meditation, preparing for the morning or quiet time. Avoid stimulating or stressful activities like working late on projects for home or work, heated discussions or other doings that send you into a “fight or flight” mode. Triggering your body and mind to be awake is the opposite of where you want to go, which is powering down to help transition–lulling your body and mind–to sleep and quality slumber. 

And for those evenings that you can’t get “that” off your mind, experts recommend a successfully proven action of writing down pressing issues or nagging thoughts or problems. And, then putting them away, to be dealt with until tomorrow. Research shows you will actually manage them better after a good night’s sleep. All in all, you are supporting your body and mind to transition with relaxing activities and turning down the sounds (and noises) of the day for restful sleep.

Dim the lights.

Light wakes us up—so, making sure you have the right lighting, or lack of (darkness), is important to help you fall to sleep. As the light of day breaks, your retinas sense sunlight and send signals to suppress the release of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. Along with the natural light of day, artificial light also has the same effect on your body, continuing to inhibit melatonin release. And yes, that includes light from televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones. Using your electronics before bedtime may actually be interfering with your sleep. Keep an eye on it.    

Turning down the lights helps our body in transitioning to release melatonin, that makes us sleepy when it becomes dark at nighttime. So as you get closer to your chosen bedtime, all the lights in your home should get dimmer. And, today, home LED lighting can help to emit less and less blue light which also has been found effective in allowing you to doze off and sleep well throughout the night.

In addition to unplugging and powering down our technology, consider using heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to enhance melatonin production. You’ll be glad you did!!

Think comfort for sleeping.

The comfort of your bedroom (and you at bedtime) is not just a luxury, it is critically important to the quality of your sleep. Research shows that the conditions of your bedroom – sights, sounds, feelings, textures, temperature and even smells – as well as your comfort, all can have a direct impact on your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling well rested, fresh and energized. Makes good sense. 

Not surprisingly, results from the National Sleep Foundation’s Bedroom Research found that respondents rated elements of comfort in their bedroom having the greatest impact on their sleep as follows: comfort of their mattress (93%) and pillows (91%); the feel of the sheets and bedding (85%); sleeping on sheets with a fresh scent (78%); a quiet (74%) and dark room (73%); temperature (69%); and fresh air free of allergens (63%).

So, the next questions for you is: How is your comfort in your sleeping space? Do you need to remove clutter? Do you need a new quality pillow? Sheets? Blackout curtains? Are you too hot or cold? Your body has an internal thermostat that drops a degree or two at the initiation of sleep. It is believed that this “cooling off” induces sleep. As a result, if your room is too warm or too cold, it makes it more challenging to doze off. Aim for a bedroom temp of 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit.  

A welcoming, relaxing bedroom and comfortable bed can make the all difference between a good night’s sleep and one that disrupts you with tossing, turning and loss of sleep. 

Stay on Schedule.

Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day—even on weekends—is crucial for setting your body’s internal clock (your circadian rhythm). Staying consistent also means that the quality of your sleep will be better. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis for your health and wellbeing. Children require more sleep: 3-5 year olds need 10-13 hours; 6-12 year olds need 9-12 hours; and teens 8-10 hours.

Watch What You Eat, Drink and When.

Heavy eating close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. The best practice is to eat lightly several hours before your designated bedtime. When you eat too much in the evening, it can cause discomfort and make it hard for your body to settle and relax. And spicy foods can also cause heartburn, all too often interfering with sleep. Conversely, going to bed on an empty stomach or hungry can keep you up later (a light snack may help). And go easy on any liquids before bedtime to help prevent middle of the night trips to the bathroom.

In addition to being addictive, nicotine is also a stimulant that increases blood pressure and heart rate, making it challenging to fall asleep. And, too, it can cause you to wake up earlier than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, needed. This is because smokers often experience withdrawal symptoms before it’s time to rise and shine.

Caffeine is a stimulant that takes time to wear off and may make it difficult for you to fall (and stay) asleep. Avoid caffeine (including teas, sodas, energy drinks and caffeinated food items, like chocolate) for at least six hours before bedtime. 

And while alcohol may initially make you feel sleepy, it lowers the quality of your sleep, interfering with the deeper, restorative stages of your sleep. Experts agree it is best not to drink it in the late evening. 

You need quality, restful sleep. Chronic (and even acute) sleep deprivation has serious consequences and should not be dismissed as a “way of life.” A lack of proper sleep greatly impacts your overall health and well-being on any given day—impairing mental alertness, immunity, heart function, and mood and stress levels. It doesn’t have to be that way. 

If you are experiencing trouble sleeping on a regular basis, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. In most cases, sleep disturbances may be due to behaviors, environment, or lifestyle choices and simple steps can be taken to fix it. However, it may be the result of an underlying mental or physical condition that can be treated. 

We should always practice relaxing pre-bedtime habits– as well as establish a comfortable and cozy sleeping space so we are more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep.  Enjoy – and sweet dreams!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

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