Thursday, August 22, 2013

Health Tip Of The Week - Getting Your Sleep

Insomnia is a problem that I have faced for over ten years.  It was severe for seven of those years.  It started while I was on bed rest with my son, and it has never completely went away.  The longest that I was ever awake was almost 60 hours.  I still wasn't tired, but my husband made me sleep, because he was afraid that I would start hallucinating.  In other words, I've been there.  I know many other people are there now.  The CDC has reported that insufficient sleep is now a public health epidemic!  We are falling asleep in the middle of our jobs, and while driving, all too often.  Adults require 7 - 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Children require even more.

I have noticed that if a stick to a sleep routine and schedule, I have less sleep problems.  I am a natural night owl.  I HATE going to bed early!  I like to do all sorts of things, other than sleep.  Plus, typically I can get a lot of work done, but I have to force myself to do certain things.  Otherwise, I won't sleep and I won't be capable of a complete thought, by the next day.  My patience becomes nonexistent.  I snap at everyone, I feel absolutely horrible.  If I go too long without sleep, I get physically ill.  So, here are a few tips that I have researched and tried myself.  Some may work for you, and some may not, but you have to start somewhere.

-  Keep A Regular Schedule:  set a regular bedtime, and go to bed at that time every night, even weekends.  Wake up at the same time everyday, as well.  If you need to make up for lost sleep, take a daytime nap, don't sleep later.  Set a nap limit of 30 minutes.

-  Naturally Regulate Your Sleep Cycle:  Remove sunglasses in the morning, and let the sunlight hit your face.  Spend more time outside during the day.  Also, let light into your home and work space.  This is important, because melatonin is controlled by light exposure.  Have as much light as possible during the day, and as little light as possible in the evening before bed.  Your brain will secrete more of this hormone, when you don't have light, therefore making you tired.  So, in the evening, turn off your tv and computer.  Change out bright light bulbs, and make sure your bedroom is dark.

-  Create A Bedtime Routine:  Having an evening routine, tells your brain that it is time to relax and prepare for sleep.  Keep noises down in your bedroom.  If you can't avoid the noise, try to mask it with a fan, soothing sounds, or a white noise.  You can buy a sleep machine to help with this.  Keep your room cool.  65 degrees, is considered to be the optimal temperature.  Also, make sure your bed is comfortable.  It should be big enough to comfortably move around, and also be firm enough to support you.

-  Healthy Eating And Proper Exercise:  Stay away from big meals at night.  Stop eating 2 hours before bedtime, so your body doesn't keep you awake while digesting.  Avoid alcohol at night.  While it can help you to fall asleep, it can disrupt your sleep, waking you up several times a night.  Cut down on your caffeine intake. It can disrupt your sleep even 10 - 12 hours after your last caffeinated beverage!  Avoid drinking too much at night.  Water, juice, tea, and other fluids will result in frequent trips to the bathroom.  Another tip, quit smoking!  Nicotine is a stimulant, that will disrupt your sleep.  Smokers also experience withdrawal symptoms, making it hard to sleep.  if you exercise 30 minutes a day, you are likely to sleep more deeply.  Exercising late in the day, can stimulate  the body, keeping you from rest.  Don't lay on the couch all night though.  Gentle yoga or stretching can be a good evening routine.

-  Control Your Stress And Anxiety:  This seems easier said than done, but there are some relaxation techniques that you can use to lower your stress levels.  Try deep breathing.  Close your eyes, and take deep, slow breaths.  Make each breath deeper, than the one before.  Another helpful technique is muscle relaxation.  Starting at the toes, tense your muscles as tight as you can, then completely relax.  Work your way up to the top of your head.  Lastly, visualize a peaceful, restful place.  I call this my "happy place".  It's different for everyone.  Some may see themselves relaxing on a secluded beach. Others may envision a peaceful lake by the mountains.  Mine has always been me laying in a calm field of yellow flowers, with a slight breeze, and the sun warming my body.  This is also the same happy place that I see when I am working out, and think that I just can't do another set or rep.

-  How To Get Back To Sleep:  Even the best sleepers, occasionally wake up and have a hard time getting back to sleep.  Stay out of your head.  Don't start worrying or stressing about things that you can't take care of at 3 am.  Focus on relaxing, not sleeping.  Try one of the relaxation techniques, that I just discussed.  If you have been awake for more than 15 minutes, do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book.  Keep the lights dim, so your body doesn't think that it's time to wake up.  Do not turn on the tv or any other electronic.

If you are having difficulty sleeping, try a few of these techniques.  I have found that towards the end of my night, taking a long bath with soft music, and then having a small cup of tea while reading a book definitely helps me.  Tea makes me have to go to the bathroom, so I do limit it to a small cup of decaf.  I hope you can find your own sleep routine, and get a peaceful night's rest every night.

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