Imagine a world in which there is a magic pill that gives you more energy, helps your blood pressure and improves your productivity and overall sense of how you feel during the day. The best part is there are no side effects and the pill is free. Would you want to take it? Of course!
I have good and bad news: While I have no pill to offer you, getting good quality sleep by improving your sleep hygiene can provide all the benefits mentioned above and more.
Americans face a series of obstacles when it comes to good sleep. Demands from jobs, children and even our social life can impact our slumber. A lot of the habits we use to get us through the day can negatively influence our ability to have a restive night. We can often find ourselves in a vicious cycle of getting behind in our sleep and then needing sugary snacks, power naps, afternoon caffeine or other harmful strategies to keep us awake. In the short term, these can get us through the day, but they worsen the problem in the long run. Compounding the issue, the stresses and challenges we face can often leave us lying in bed wide awake during the precious few hours we have to recharge. If we can't get the recommended seven to nine hours every night, then it is even more important to make sure the hours we get are high quality and restorative.
So, how do we do that?
One way is by prioritizing sleep hygiene, which means putting yourself in the best position to sleep well every night and thereby directly leading to you being more refreshed and productive during the day. What a person does during the day—from the moment they get up to the moment their head hits the pillow—can either set them up for a successful night of sleep or a terrible night of tossing and turning.
What to prioritize for restful sleep
- Waking up at the same time every day
- Getting 21 minutes of physical activity in the morning or early afternoon
- Avoiding the use of electronic devices before bed
What can hinder sleep
- Drinking caffeine within 12 hours of bedtime
- Having an uncomfortable sleep environment
- Napping during the day
This is one the best handouts I have found for when it comes to first looking at improving sleep hygiene. Most of the patients I have worked with see dramatic improvement in their sleep by following these 15 tips. If you find you are doing all of them and still can't seem to fall asleep or stay asleep, then I suggest setting up an appointment with your healthcare provider to dive deeper into what is preventing you from getting the sleep you deserve.
One more thing: I can't state enough that sedation does NOT equal sleep. Having a nightcap or popping a Benydrl or Tylenol PM to get to sleep doesn't provide the high-quality, restorative sleep you need.
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