Getting Healthy Sleep

How have you been sleeping? Where are you sleeping? How long do you sleep?

If you are like most adults, you are likely not getting enough sleep. Most adults try to get by on five to six hours of sleep each night. We are busy. You may work outside of the home and then have all the tasks at home to address during the evening hours. You may have children who are involved in activities that keep you busy throughout most of the week. It may be that you have gotten into an unhealthy habit of staying up late to watch favorite television shows or to surf the internet. In the end, it is often sleep that is sacrificed. Do you know what kinds of effects sleep deprivation have?

Sleep is the time when our bodies rejuvenate from our busy days. Healing of muscles and tissues and restoring of energy takes place. Memory consolidation also takes place during sleep, meaning that all the information you were exposed to during the day is filed into the appropriate space so that it can be retrieved when needed. For children, who are learning sponges, sleep is vital to being a successful student.

So when we are not getting enough sleep, we are likely to feel as though we are running on half a tank of energy, as opposed to having our full resources at our disposal. We do not think as clearly. Our concentration may be disrupted. Our memory begins to fail us. Certainly, most of us have also experienced the irritability that comes along with not getting enough sleep. Do you also know that there are potentially serious health consequences of not getting adequate sleep? Sleep deprivation increases our risk for obesity, heart attacks, and anxiety and depression.

What can I do? If you can relate with some of the above, working toward restoring good sleep hygiene is likely to be helpful. What does it mean to have good sleep hygiene? Essentially, it means getting into a routine so that you are training your body when to expect and how to go to sleep. Isn’t it as simple as lying down and closing my eyes? For the lucky, this may be true. Some people can fall asleep wherever and whenever. For most of us, however, our bodies need to be prepared for sleep. Starting with the environment, you can help improve your sleep by making your sleep space comfortable. Get a quality mattress. Use comfortable sheets and have blankets for layering so that you can adjust to your comfort level. Have a supportive pillow, possibly utilize a body pillow as well to support other parts of your body. Determine whether you need some white noise (such as a fan or noise machine) to help cover up intrusive noises. (If you have a partner who snores, you may also want to invest in some ear plugs to help block the noise.) Set the thermostat at a cooler temperature during your sleeping hours. Your sleep space should also only be used for sleeping and for sexual activities. This means not eating in bed and not reading or lounging in your sleep space. Your body will be confused as to what is expected if you are using your sleep space for activities other than sleep.

  • Other activities that can interfere with sleep include eating too close to bedtime. You should try to make your last meal or snack about two hours before you want to sleep; otherwise, your body will be working to process and digest the food when you are trying to get it to shut down and turn off for sleep.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine intake in the evenings as well, as these all can interfere with the sleep structure.
  • Exercise can be very helpful in getting good sleep. Exercising most every day for 30 to 60 minutes can help burn off energy and loosen muscles. Think broadly here. Exercise can include such things as walking, biking, gardening, playing kickball with the children, dancing with a partner, stretching and doing yoga. However, exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep because being active raises your body temperature and typically when you are falling asleep your body is cooling down. The same can be true of taking warm baths or warm showers too close to bedtime. These can raise your body temperature and can then delay the onset of sleep. So, while exercising is beneficial to sleeping well, be sure to exercise no closer than two hours before sleep time. Taking a warm shower or bath can also help to relax you and you may want to try this a couple of hours prior to sleep.
  • Disengaging from stimulation and having a time to transition to sleep is also helpful. This means turning off the television and getting off of the computer in order to signal your body to start slowing down and shutting down for sleep.

If you have tried in earnest toward establishing and maintaining a healthy sleep routine and are still having problems with sleep and low energy, it may be worthwhile to consult with your doctor for any possible medical causes to your sleep problems. If you believe stress, depression, or anxiety may be contributing to your sleep difficulties, please consider therapy as an option for addressing those areas. Here’s hoping you have a good night’s sleep!