If you want to live a long and healthy life, you should not only emphasize getting enough exercise and eating a healthy diet, but include getting good quality sleep. Though each person varies, most people need around eight hours of sleep a night. A few people may function on as little as five hours while others may need as many as 10 hours of sleep in order to feel refreshed and alert. Your individual sleep need is the optimal amount that allows you to be mentally focused and be able to function throughout the day without feeling drowsy when sitting quietly and being attentive to something.
Lack of adequate sleep can have adverse effects on the body: reducing one’s ability to fight disease and infection; impairing cognitive function, perception, coordination, motor skills, and ability to concentrate; increasing one’s risk of having an accident; increasing one’s risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, developing obesity and diabetes.
So what can you do to improve your sleep patterns? Listed below are several strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants after mid-afternoon. These keep you from falling asleep.
- Avoid alcohol after dinner. Alcohol interferes with overall sleep quality and can cause you to wake during the night.
- Create a restful place to sleep. Go to sleep in a dark room, maintain a cool, comfortable room temperature, have a comfortable mattress and pillow, block out disruptive sounds with “white noise” such as using a fan or use ear plugs.
- Develop a routine that signals your body that it is time to settle down for the night. Practice relaxation techniques, avoid stressful thoughts, listen to soothing music, take a warm bath, or try some light reading.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal close to your bedtime. And don’t go to bed hungry. A light snack may help you sleep.
- Fall asleep and rise around the same time each day, even on weekends. Avoid napping unless you are sleep-deprived.
- Exercise. But don’t engage in strenuous activity at least 3 hours before bedtime. Try exercising in the morning, mid afternoon or early evening.
- Avoid using your bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex.
- Make sleep a priority, like brushing your teeth or eating well.
- Take sleeping pills sensibly and for no longer than 4 weeks. Prolonged use will only increase insomnia.
- Try to avoid worries or distractions by making “to do” lists for the next day before retiring.
- Plan to have a massage on a regular basis. Studies have shown people who receive regularly scheduled massages are more relaxed and sleep better.
If the sleeping strategies suggested here are not successful, it may be time to seek professional help. If you have difficulty sleeping and feeling rested, are sleeping poorly for a month or more, or if daytime drowsiness interferes with your normal functioning, consult a physician knowledgeable about sleep medicines. Contact the National Sleep Foundation for a list of accredited sleep disorder centers in your area. www.sleepfoundation.org .