Beyond Camomile-How to Improve Your Sleep

Last month, we differentiated age related sleep changes from those suggestive of true sleep abnormalities. Now let’s see if we can implement some behavioral changes to optimize sleep and improve health and well being!

Improve Daytime Habits to Improve Sleep
1. Get outside! Exposure to sunlight helps to improve your sleep-wake cycles. If you can’t get outside-put a chair near a window and let the sun shine in. Still need more light? Consider a light box to simulate daylight.
2. Limit stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, especially late in the day.
3. Get involved. Those who are engaged in activities throughout the day, are better prepared to sleep at night.

Tips to Take Into the Bedroom
1. Get rid of devices that are backlit. Many use readers or tablets to read in bed. Often these devices are backlit and cause our brains to be stimulated. Choose either an eReader without backlighting or use a bedside lamp.
2. Likewise, turn down the room lights and eliminate artificial lights from TVs and computers at least one hour prior to bedtime.
3. Hide the clock. Ok, maybe just turn it around. Watching the clock tick does not aid in sleepiness. The same goes for the lights emitted from the alarm or cell phone–dim them or turn them off altogether.
4. Make your bed a comfortable haven. Cool, dark and quiet is the way to go. Earplugs and a sleep mask may help.
5. Limit bedroom action to sleep and sex, period. No working, game playing, TV watching etc. Let your brain associate the bedroom with only two activities–romance and sleep.

Healthy Bedtime Routine
1. Adjust your bedtime to fit when you’re sleepy even if it’s earlier than before.
2. Keep bedtime and wake time consistent, including weekends.
3. Bedtime rituals work well. Find a routine that works for you. For some a bath or quiet music gets the Z’s started, while others find that relaxation techniques such a deep breathing, muscle relaxation or massage helps.
4. Say no to snoring. If you or your partner snore and keep the other awake, both are not getting restorative sleep. Consider a white noise machine, earplugs or moving to another room. If obstructive sleep apnea is a possibility, see your physician for a possible sleep study.
5. Avoid sleep aids, both prescription and non-prescription. These drugs are intended to be used temporarily and if used longer cause more harm than good.

How About a Siesta? Believe it or not, we are programmed for a nap!
1. Take it early. Naps should be taken in the afternoon, but not too late that it disrupts nighttime sleep.
2. Keep it short. Less than 45 minutes is ideal. Even super short naps have benefit, but napping too long may leave you feeling foggy.
3. Nap in an environment that is quiet with limited light, if possible.

Dietary Changes
1. Avoid big meals
2. Avoid spicy foods
3. Eat dinner early- at least 3 hours before bedtime
4. Eat a light snack to stave off hunger, if necessary- warm milk or a small turkey sandwich (both contain tryptophan -our body’s own natural sleep aid)
5. No caffeine late in the day.
6. Avoid alcohol. While it make make you feel sleepy, it ultimately disrupts the natural sleep cycle.

Exercise
1. Daily exercise releases natural chemicals in your body that promote healthy sleep.
2. Exercise early enough in the day to avoid the increased energy and stimulation that immediately follows exercise and makes sleep initiation more difficult.

Improve Mental Health- stress impedes sleep
1. Journal before retiring to get it all on paper and out of your head.
2. Read materials that help you relax.
3. Make a to-do list and then let it go until morning.
4. Listen to music, and ask for a massage if someone is available.
5. Consider talking with a friend or therapist if stress and related insomnia persist.

If sleep problems continue, keep a sleep diary. In the diary, note all the potential factors each night that may have impacted your sleep as discussed above. Bring this diary and concerns to your doctor for further evaluation and treatment.

Reference:
How to Sleep Well as You Age, Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org

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