Ahh, sleep, beautiful, wonderful, at times elusive sleep. Who doesn’t want to sleep well? Is there anyone who doesn’t like sleeping? Lying all cozy in bed, dozing on and off. Or that feeling of a solid night of sleep when upon waking you feel completely rejuvenated, ready for anything. It’s awesome.
Too bad so many people struggle with sleep. I used to be a champion sleeper. Would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and not move until morning.
I then had a few years where sleep was a constant battle. Way too much stress and anxiety in my life which led to a vicious cycle of inadequate sleep causing more stress and even worse sleep.
I’m in a much better place now. Usually, I sleep pretty well. Not as well as I used to but well enough. That is until recently. The insanity of this election is keeping me up.
There will always be times in your life when it’s hard to stop ruminating on the worst possible outcome of whatever life throws at you. Unfortunately, right now we have two more weeks of this particular brand of election stress and anxiety. No time like the present to review healthy sleep habits. Hopefully, it will help you get the sleep you need.
Sleep is one of those things that can have a huge impact on how you feel and perform. Inadequate sleep negatively affects your health in a few ways, not to mention that you feel crappy. But it also can interfere with weight loss, increase your blood pressure and put you at risk for accidents and poor performance.
So here are a few things to keep in mind to maximize your chances of a good night sleep, even when the pressure of different life stressors is high.
Different people have different sleep issues. For some it’s falling asleep, others it’s staying asleep. Depending on your particular issue, some of these suggestions may have more impact.
Make your room sleep friendly; that is cool, dark and quiet.
Have a partner who snores or live on a noisy street. Try ear plugs or a noise machine.
Optimal temperature varies from person to person, but cool, around 65 degrees, is what usually works best for most people.
Light exposure can have dramatic effects, even a sliver of light coming from under the door or a drape can affect your melatonin production which negatively impacts your sleep. Get black out shades or use eye blinders if necessary.
You have probably heard that light exposure with all of our screens can interfere with a good night sleep. So try to turn off your screens, phone, tablet, computer or TV, 1-2 hours before bedtime. The exception is if watching something on a screen, whether it’s TV, movies or youtube, helps you to relax. If it helps you relax and then fall asleep, it can be a valuable part of a bedtime routine.
Avoiding alcohol or caffeine. Caffeine for obvious reasons, and although alcohol can help you fall asleep initially, it prevents you from entering deep sleep which is ultimately more restorative. As alcohol is metabolized, it causes those middle of the night wake ups.
Have a routine. Include things that help you relax like stretching, yoga, herbal tea, warm bath, and meditation. One of the internal signals your body uses to communicate it’s time for sleep is a drop in temperature. You can help this process by warming up in a bath or shower. Your body temperature will naturally go down after.
Whatever you choose to do, do it every night. That way it becomes a signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. And just like Pavlov’s dog as the association between sleep and your routine grows, you’ll find getting to sleep becomes easier and easier. Sleep routines are often recommended for parents to get their infants to sleep. What works for babies also works for adults.
Another strategy from the parenting playbook is sleep schedules. Keep to the same schedule every day,
even weekends. This is tough. I always want to catch up on some lost sleep on the weekends, but inevitably I overshoot and end up sleeping in so much that by Sunday night I am wide awake when it’s time for bed. And then the cycle starts over where I begin the week sleep deprived and am still not caught up by the next weekend.
I was one of the many parents who was desperate for my kid to sleep. She was not a good sleeper at first. I knew the only way for us to survive the first few years was if she learned to sleep and sleep well. (She did). I think it was due in large part to a very regular sleep schedule.
Sleep scheduling works well for adults too for a few reasons.
First, you have an internal rhythm otherwise known as your circadian rhythm. It functions optimally when you keep to the same schedule. Second, it helps to reinforce the association between your bed and sleep. The stronger this connection, the easier it is to fall and stay asleep. Maybe you’ve heard the advice to limit the activities in your bed to sleep and sex. This is why.
All of these suggestions should help set you up for success, but the real key to consistently sleeping well has to do with how you think about sleep. Your negative feelings about sleep interfere with your ability to sleep well. This then becomes a self-fulfilling vicious cycle. The worse you feel about sleep and the more you stress about not being able to get a good night’s sleep, the more fatigued and out of sorts you will feel during the day. But this may be more from those self-induced negative feelings about sleep than from real sleep debt.
Two things to keep in mind. Older adults (and by older I mean older than 25-30 years old) need less sleep than younger adults and teenagers. We have all heard the eight hours of sleep rule, but it turns out that the sweet spot for adults may be 7 hours. And, interestingly enough you may function better when you are just slightly underslept.
So, shoot for 7 hours instead of eight.
Another thing that happens as you get older is you wake up more easily and frequently during the night than when you were younger.
As you may know, you go through the various stages of sleep several times during the night. As you pass through the lighter stages of sleep, you may briefly wake up. And thus have the feeling you did not sleep well because you found yourself awake a few times.
If you can return to sleep readily then these wake ups are not a problem and do not affect your overall quality of sleep.
The good news is you are probably sleeping better than you thought. When you are in stage two sleep, you feel like you are still awake. Ever have one of those nights convinced you spent the whole night wide awake? Well, there is a good chance you were in stage two sleep, which is still restorative although not as much as the deeper stages.
Yes, sleep is incredibly important to health and well-being, but you may not need as much as you thought or are attempting to get, you are probably sleeping better than you thought, and being a little underslept is likely to be a good thing. Hopefully, with these considerations, you will be able to think more positively about sleep which in and of itself should improve how you feel during the day and ultimately better sleep at night.