Do you ever wonder why you feel so tired and spend countless hours trying to fall asleep? Perhaps you feel “ready for bed” but just can’t get your mind to quiet down and frequently worry about the things that aren’t checked off your to-do list. Do you watch the clock only to count the hours and minutes until you have to wake up and face another stressful day? If this sounds like you – you’re not alone! The CDC estimates between 50 – 70 million adults suffer from insufficient sleep and the number for children with sleep problems is also increasing at an alarming rate. This is quite concerning as a number of health risks have been linked with sleep problems:
- chronic diseases: obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, increased mortality rate
- mood disorders, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, behavior problems, adhd
- reduced quality of life, poor focus, decreased productivity, relationship problems
After consulting with your primary care physician to rule out any underlying medical condition, you may want to consider some of the following steps. “Sleep Hygiene” is fancy term for setting the optimal conditions where your mind and body feels ready to rest, so sleep can occur naturally on its own.
- Start your day: Although this may seem a little counterintuitive, healthy sleep actually begins at the start of each day. It’s important to create consistency by waking at the same time each day.
- Get outside as much as possible during daytime hours. Exposing our mind and senses to healthy doses of sun light helps our bodies produce the chemicals necessary to promote healthy sleep. Taking a break from work outdoors may actually improve your focus and work productivity.
- Daily physical activity: Going for a walk or getting exercise can reduce stress levels, have a tremendous impact on your mood, and increase your overall productivity. With younger children, putting on sunscreen and visiting a favorite park or a local splash pad can be a fun summer activity and a healthy model for our kids.
- Limit caffeine for 6-8 hrs before bedtime and longer if you are sensitive to its effects. Switching to a favorite decaf tea in the afternoon can produce a calming effect on the mind and body.
- Reduce alcohol: Although it has sedative qualities, alcohol actually hinders “restful” sleep.
- Limit electronics. While it can be fun to play the latest and greatest game, surf the web, or spend numerous hours texting or connecting to the latest social network, all these activities increase synaptic brain functioning and prevent natural sleep from occurring. Limiting television and computer screen exposure for at least 1 hour before bed.
- Bedroom environment: Remove the clutter from the floors, put things in the closet, organize the dresser or nightstand, and no eating in bed. Most people prefer a cooler bedroom temperature.
- If you enjoy reading, find a good paperback or magazine to read (avoid electronic versions,) which slowly prepares your mind for rest. You can also look at pictures or use your imagination to conjure up peaceful images or places you would like to visit.
- Mindfulness: Put on some relaxing background music or soothing nature sounds. Meditation, breathing, and stretching can help you unwind after a long and stressful day.
- Snuggling with a significant other, a furry pet, or your favorite pillow or stuffed animal can be comforting and provides a lot of health benefits as well.
Put these tips to use and get to sleep! Your health depends on it.
Jason Tharaldson is a therapist in our PrairieCare Edina Outpatient Clinic.