Are you one of the 33%? That’s the percentage of Americans who don’t get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you read our last blog, Why Getting Enough Sleep Really Does Matter, you know that getting enough sleep is critical for your health, well-being, and productivity.
It’s frustrating when you can’t get to sleep. You can feel helpless, lying in bed while everyone else sleeps. You’ve tried counting sheep. You don’t want to take medications. What can you do? At Duke Health, we have lots of ideas.
Make Your Bedroom Into a Sleep Oasis
Make sure that your bedroom is an invitation to sleep. Is your mattress comfortable? Do you have a good pillow? If not, that’s a good place to start. Are your sheets soft? Do you wash them weekly? Have you tried a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow before you go to bed?
Is your bedroom really dark at night? If not, investing in blackout drapes is worth the cost. Is your apartment or house in a noisy area? A white noise machine can help block out the sound pollution that keeps you awake. And, make sure your bedroom is cool; Sleep.org recommends keeping your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees.
Finally, eliminate everything in your bedroom that doesn’t relate to sleep or romance. Yes, that means no technology in the bedroom. Turn the clock away from your bed or put it in a drawer. And, no children or pets. It might even mean having that uncomfortable conversation with your partner or spouse who snores or has restless leg syndrome.
Stick to a Schedule, Even on the Weekends
Keep to a sleep schedule, even on the weekends. Go to bed at the same time. Wake up at the same time, even if you’re tired. Avoid naps. Just like you train your baby to sleep, you can train or retrain your adult self to sleep.
If you do strenuous exercise, do it in the morning; exercise releases endorphins that tell your body to get up and go. Save yoga or meditation for the evening.
Medications can affect sleep. Make sure to take them at the same time every day. Eat your meals at the same time. And, avoid eating in the two hours before bedtime. If you are really hungry, keep it light. Have a piece of fruit or a cup of herbal tea.
Turn Off the Screens
Your brain “reads” the blue light in your screens just like sunlight. It also blocks your body’s production of melatonin, the “sleep hormone.” Ideally, you should stop using all screens—TV, laptop, cell phone, Kindle, gaming devices—two hours before bedtime. But, given that the average American spends five hours a day on devices outside of work, we know this may not happen.
If you absolutely, positively cannot tear yourself away from your screens until bedtime, consider using an app like f.lux to block the blue light on your laptop or computer. There are also apps for iPhones and androids that block blue light. Or, you can get a pair of glasses that block blue light.
Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine seems like a great remedy when you are sleep deprived. But, the half-life of caffeine is six hours. That means two of the four-shots in that venti mochaccino you had at 4 p.m. are still in your system at 10 p.m. and one shot is still revving you up at 4 a.m.
Alcohol will help you fall asleep faster. And, you will sleep more deeply. The problem is that alcohol disrupts your rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, the restorative phase of sleep when you dream. Disruptions to your REM sleep can make you sleepy during the day, impair your concentration and memory, and rob you of quality sleep.
We’re not saying to forego all caffeine and alcohol. Just be sensible and know the consequences.
Think Outside the Box
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of sleep solutions on the internet. Some of them may seem a little New Age, but they work.
Many people get relief using supplements like melatonin or valerian. Melatonin is the sleep hormone your body makes naturally, so using melatonin is just boosting your natural hormone balance. Valerian is a perennial flower that grows in Europe and Asia; its root contains a sedative-like chemical that can reduce anxiety and help you sleep. You should always check with your doctor before taking supplements, especially if you are pregnant, taking prescription medications, or being treated for a serious medical condition.
Take a hot bath or have a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea. While you want to sleep in a cool room, increasing your body temperature before bed will help you sleep.
Some yoga poses can help you sleep, too; try child’s pose, hero, cat/cow, spinal twist, happy baby, reclining goddess, and corpse pose. Try breathing exercises; Navy SEALS use box breathing to calm themselves in stressful situations. Extending your breath, six counts in and six counts out, helps to relax you. Finally, try meditation; even five minutes can quiet your mind before going to bed.
Still having trouble sleeping? Maybe you need some professional help. Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog “How Duke Health Can Help You Sleep Better.”