12 Tips for Improving Sleep Health

With spooky season in full effect, the things that go bump in the night can keep some of us from catching the appropriate amount of ZZZ’s.

If improving your sleep is something you’re jonesin’ for this fall, here are Dr. Vinny’s 12 Tips for Improving Sleep Health:

  1. Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Believe it or not, we humans are creatures of habit. Studies show that all of us have a hard time adjusting to alterations in our sleep patterns. There’s no such thing as “catching up” on sleep. Oftentimes we tell ourselves that we’ll just sleep longer on the weekends but that can actually alter your pattern so much that it makes getting up for work early on a Monday morning seem impossible. Set an alarm for bedtime. Most of us probably set an alarm to wake up but how many of us don’t set an alarm for when it’s time to go to sleep. If you only implement one of these twelve tips to improve sleep, this should be that one.
  2. Exercising regularly is a balanced part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But working out too close to sleepy can negatively impact your slumber. Try to space out exercises at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, sodas, teas, and chocolate can contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant which excites the sympathetic nervous system and can stay in your system for up to eight hours. Putting ut simply, a cup of joe too late in the day can hinder your ability to fall asleep. Nicotine also acts as a stimulant and causes smokers to sleep very lightly, never fully hitting deep sleep. Smokers will also wake up too early due to nicotine withdrawal.
  4. Avoid alcoholic beverages before bed. Having a nightcap may help you relax (alcohol is a depressant, after all) but it will also rob your brain’s ability to enter REM sleep. REM sleep is hugely important becuase it’s the stage of sleep where our brains are able to process emotions and memories as well as learn new skills and patterns. Alcohol consumption prior to bed will also impair breathing patterns at night, limiting oxygebn to the brain and potentially causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.
  5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. Snacking is ok, but a large meal can result in indigestion, affecting your sleep. Drinking too many fluids prior to bed can result in waking in the middle of the night to frequently urinate.
  6. Delay medications/supplements that disrupt sleep, if possible. It is common for some prescriptions to disrupt sleep patterns. Some of these medications include: heart and blood pressure prescriptions, asthma medications, as well as many cold, cough, and allergy meds (over-the-counter, prescription, and herbals). If you’re having difficulty sleeping talk with your healthcare provider or phamacist to see if your medications are contributing to your insomnia, or if any of your supplements/medications can be taken at other times or earlier in the evening.
  7. Resist naps after 3.00pm. Naps can be helpful for increasing energy levels and can be help your body feel like it’s “catching up” on some rest you might have missed the night before,  but napping late in the afternoon can make it more difficult to sleep at night.
  8. Relax before bed. Downregulating your nervous system prior to sleep can help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep for longer. Avoid overscheduling your day so there’s no time for rest and relaxation toward the day’s end. Relaxing activities like reading, puzzles, or listening to music can help you slow down and relax to facilitate sleep.
  9. Take a hot bath or shower before bed. After bathing with hot water, your body has to drop your internal temperature. This change in temperature can help you feel sleepy as well as prep your body to prepare for sleep.
  10. Dark, cool, gadget and screen-free room. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep. Examples include noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. We sleep better if the room’s temperature is on the cooler side. At night screens (from a tv, cell phone, computer, tablet, etc.) can distract your brain, causing your nervous system to react as if it’s daytime, depriving you of sleep. Being comfortable can promote a good night’s sleep. Those of us with insomnia will often stare at the clock (or our phones) as the minutes and hours roll by. Covering the clock or turning the face away could also be helpful.
  11. Get appropriate sun exposure. Believe it or not, daylight is the key to regulating sleep patterns. Aim to be in the sunlight for at least 30 minutes per day. Thirty minutes each, during sunrise and sunset, of being outside in the sunlight will help your internal clock regulate. This works best if viewing the sunlight naturally. That means no car windows, no house windows, no sunglasses. Prescriptions lenses are fine as long as they do not block UV light.
  12. Do not lie in bed awake. If you’re not falling asleep after lying in bed for more than twenty minutes or if you start to feel anxious or worried, get up and do a relaxing activity (like reading) until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not falling asleep can make it harder to zonk out.
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