Ways to Get Better Sleep
It is a well-known fact that sleep is important for you. Doctors typically recommend 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep helps the brain store memories, regulate emotions, organize the information we learn during the day, and improves concentration. Sleep also plays a role in your physical health, supporting your immune system, muscle growth, blood pressure, and normal responses to hunger. Lately, sleep research indicates that during sleep the brain flushes out toxins detrimental to cognitive health. Needless to say, sleep is crucial for a healthy life. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. do not get enough sleep.
Stress and modern technology may also play a role, as well. It is more difficult for people who are anxious to fall asleep. Conversely, people who have difficulty sleeping are also more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. Exposure to bright screens by way of cell phones or televisions may also impact sleep quality. Recent research has suggested that blue light emitted from computer monitors, TV screens, and cell phones decrease the amount of melatonin your brain secretes. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone that is normally released at nighttime. Sunlight, or the lack thereof, determines how much melatonin is secreted. When sunlight is present, your body ceases the amount of melatonin released. But blue light from bright screens “tricks” your body into thinking it is still daytime and can continue to suppress melatonin levels at nighttime.
As we age, our body’s sleep cycle changes. These changes cause us to go to bed earlier, as well as wake up earlier. We also tend to sleep more lightly and may be disturbed from sleep more easily. Researchers do not conclusively know why this is.
There are many reasons why we need good sleep. Unfortunately, there are as many reasons why we do not get good sleep. Below are some helpful hints to fix your sleeping schedule to get a good 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night:
- Set a bedtime: This may seem obvious, but designating a time to go to bed is crucial. This time should be chosen keeping in mind that you need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. For example, f you wake up at 6 a.m., then try to be asleep by 10 p.m.
- Think of a pre-bedtime routine: This behavior management technique is meant to train your body that bedtime is approaching soon. Pick an activity that will not energize you (as exercising would) or includes staring at a bright screen. You can try breathing and meditation, reading a book or magazine, or some light stretches.
- Exercise throughout the week: Exercise helps your body in a multitude of ways. Exercise is beneficial for your cardiovascular health, muscular strength, joints, and your mental functioning. It also helps you sleep more deeply. Try walking or jogging in the morning for at least 3 to 4 times a week. If you exercise in the afternoon, make sure you have enough time to cool down before going to bed, or else you may have difficulty falling asleep. Try to finish exercising at least 3 hours before bed. Remember to speak with a doctor before starting an exercise regimen.
- Avoid TV, cell phones, and computers before bed: As mentioned above, research has shown that blue light from these bright screens is detrimental to sleep quality. Try to avoid these devices for at least three hours before bed. If you must use the computer during the evening, then consider buying blue light blocking glasses or a screen cover. These devices are designed to decrease the amount of blue light that enters your eyes. These devices can cost around $60.00, but the benefits you will receive from having good sleep far outweigh the cost of this equipment. If you are a person that likes to fall asleep to background noise, consider listening to a radio as opposed to watching TV.
- Avoid afternoon naps: Many times, naps in the afternoon lead to wakefulness at night. When you feel tired in the afternoon, try to stay awake by walking around or having a little caffeine.
- Manage Stress Levels: One of the biggest factors in sleep loss is the amount of stress you experience. This stress can be external, resulting from a busy schedule, or it can be internal, resulting from an anxiety disorder. Whatever the source, it is important to learn tips to manage it. Seeing a behavioral therapist, even if you do not have an anxiety disorder, is an excellent way to learn techniques like mindfulness, rhythmic breathing, and behavior management.
- Address any sleep disorders: Many times, sleep loss can be caused by disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome (RLS). Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing while you sleep. A person with this condition will normally stop breathing during sleep for about 30 to 60 seconds, which alerts the brain and prevents the body from entering deep stages of sleep. As a result, the person wakes up feeling exhausted. The condition is characterized by loud snoring, and people do not usually know that they have it until somebody alerts them about their disruptive snoring. Restless leg syndrome, on the other hand, is a neurological condition that causes you to feel an overwhelming urge to move your legs while at rest. If you notice these symptoms, it may benefit you to see a doctor about them.
- If you drink caffeine, avoid it before bed: Caffeine is a stimulant that is perfect to have when you start your day or during a tired mid-afternoon. But having coffee before bed will likely keep you up at night and will prevent you from sleeping deeply.
Sleep is crucial for a healthy body and a healthy brain. Hopefully these tips will help you get back on schedule!
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