Patient Education: Making Sleep a Health Priority
Get the best out of your sleep
Good sleep is a necessity for the healthy functioning of the mind and body. It is also one of the things that we can forcibly deprive ourselves. Ideally, we spend one-third of our lives asleep. Improving your sleep quality can be the first step toward stress resilience and healthy decisions.
Could you imagine sleeping for 4 hours, then waking up to go to the gym to exercise, then going to work, and taking an extra cup of coffee to stay up?! If this happens to you, wouldn’t you skip the gym and maybe skip preparing a healthy meal? Without sleep, the brain has a lower threshold to develop stress, anger and impatience. Driving a car after not sleeping well the night before is equivalent to driving under the influence of alcohol. The system doesn’t just recalibrate the sleep deficit by sleeping in on a Saturday morning.
Sleep affects more than just the neurologic system. Many first-time parents probably remember getting up at night because of a crying baby. Most people recognize that sleep reduces memory and concentration and impairs judgement, but sleep also reduces the immune system, leads to weight gain and increases the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. The endocrine, immunologic and vascular systems are regulated by sleep.
Here is a list of tips to ensure ideal sleep:
- Tone down technology: Silence your cellphones and other technology and put them in a different room at a set time each evening, preferably at least 2 hours before bedtime. The screen lights can inhibit the production of melatonin, which would otherwise prepare you for sleep.
- Preparation: Provide yourself a 30-60 minute of winding down before lights out. Limit reading time to 20-30 minutes.
- Make sleep a routine: Go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Most of the time, you will sleep for 6-8 hours naturally. With a natural routine, you will very likely not need an alarm clock. If you do use it, stop it and get up – don’t hit snooze 5 times.
- Your bed, the slumber throne. Limit activities to sex and sleep. Watching TV, eating, working on the computer may affect your body’s ability to rest in bed.
- Avoid medicating to sleep: Medications to sleep should be avoided or limited to a low dose of melatonin (2-4mg nightly). Although the medications may sometimes “work”, they come with side effects and, moreover, are not addressing the source of the problem. The last thing you want to do is develop dependence on alcohol, benzodiazepines or ambien, etc. and then can’t sleep without it. As for the other side of things, avoid any intake of caffeine after noon hours. Avoid any stimulant medications, e.g. albuterol inhalers, immediately prior to sleeping. One interesting association of sleep apnea is the patient who drinks high levels of caffeine during the day and then takes a sleeping medication at night.
- Environment: Keep sleeping area dimly lit or dark. Ambient noise should be at a minute, though white noise is acceptable. Temperature should be on the lower side, between 60-67 degrees F.
- Trouble-shoot for the future: If you are having problems sleeping at night and find yourself tossing and turning, thinking too much or waiting until that magic click to start, limit time in bed to about 15-20 minutes. There is usually a reason that this has happened and it is up to you to brainstorm it. You can sit in your chair to begin to rest, meditate and then return to your bed to sleep. The next day, think why this happened: It could have been that maybe you exercised too close to bedtime, took too warm of a shower before sleeping, saw a stimulating program on TV, or tried to squeeze some work on the computer too close to bedtime.
If you still have trouble sleeping after following this checklist, you should consider being evaluated for sleep apnea or other conditions (parasomnias) associated with sleeping, such as restless legs, etc.