Can’t Sleep? Try These Tips
Whether from coronavirus stress or the longer, hotter, steamier summer nights, a good night’s sleep may be harder to come by lately. But our family practice doctors want you to understand how important sleep is to your overall health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to a third of Americans do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. And the health issues associated with lack of sufficient sleep are myriad: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression . . . even a shorter lifespan overall.
This last effect was confirmed once again in a study released earlier this month which showed that spending less time in the restorative phase of sleep known as REM was linked to a greater overall risk of death from any cause.
REM stand for rapid eye movement, the sleep phase in which we dream, process the day’s experiences and information, and store memories. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Neurology, analyzed the sleep patterns and disruptions of 2,675 men for 13 years.
It found that, for every five percent loss of REM sleep, the subjects showed a 13 percent higher death rate than those who experienced normal periods of REM sleep.
This new study mirrors numerous previous studies that have found that lack of a good night’s sleep can have a profound negative effect on our health.
Japanese researchers, for example, found that losing just six hours of sleep over a single night resulted in significantly elevated blood glucose and triglyceride levels, warning signs for increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
What Is Healthy Sleep?
According to the CDC, if you’re sleeping well, you will:
- fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes of going to bed;
- sleep between seven and nine hours per night (longer than that is also unhealthy);
- remain asleep for the entire night;
- awaken feeling refreshed, and remain alert and productive during the day; and,
- not snore, gasp for breath, or feel restless while you’re trying to sleep.
Tips for better sleep
But what if this type of healthy sleep eludes you?
Here’s what the CDC recommends:
- go to bed at the same time every night
- don’t try to sleep on a full stomach
- refrain from using caffeine or alcohol after dinner
- turn off “blue-light” devices (TVs, computers, smartphones) at least an hour before bedtime
- restrict activity in the bed to sex and sleep (i.e., no working, reading, TV, etc.)
If you’re more stressed than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important that you take steps to work through it to avoid interrupted sleep.
These hints might help:
- write down worries before bedtime
- make time for exercise—even a brief walk—during the day
- connect with friends (safely) as much as possible
- engage in a hobby or anything that takes your mind off your worries
Maybe it’s the heat
Still having trouble? It could be due, at least in part, to the high temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), if you are sleeping and the room temperature rises above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, it can wake you up. So be sure to keep the room as cool as possible by:
- closing the blinds and windows during the day to prevent heat buildup during the hottest part of the day
- using a fan to keep the air circulating and supply “white noise” to block out street sounds
- placing a bowl of ice or ice packs in front of the fan, which will help chill the air
- dampening a sheet and hanging it across the window, both to block out light and heat, and to take advantage of cooling evaporation as it dries
Cool the bed
- Use cotton, linen, or bamboo sheets, which provide breathability. Also avoid high-thread-count sheets, which tend to trap body heat. Opt for sheets with thread counts under 400.
- Some pillows—like those stuffed with buckwheat—are specifically made to stay cool. Or you can try putting your pillow inside a plastic bag in the freezer for an hour or so before bedtime. Alternatively, place ice packs inside the pillowcase.
- Remove all extraneous bedding, including blankets and extra pillows, which tends to hold heat.
Keep yourself cool
- Avoid alcohol or heavy meals—especially carb-heavy foods—in the evening. Alcohol dehydrates you as well as making you feel hotter, and large meals produce extra heat in your body during digestion.
- Take a cool bath or shower or a dip in the pool just before bedtime. The evaporation of the moisture on your skin acts to cool you.
- Fill a hot water bottle with water and freeze it, then take it to bed and place it beneath your knees or neck, or on your chest or wrists.
- Be sure to stay hydrated throughout the day, because your body needs water to help keep you cool.
As we’ve said, sleep is crucial to maintaining good health, so if you’re having trouble sleeping more than a few nights here and there, please let us know. We can help pinpoint and, hopefully, resolve your chronic sleep issues.