There's no doubt that sleep issues contribute to both mental and physical health problems and also to societal stress. In my office, I often see patients who have difficulty with sleep and this effects productivity at work. More concerning, though, are the number of tragic events over the past few years linked to sleep issues. Perhaps most noteworthy is the Metro North train accident in December 2013. Reportedly the train's engineer was asleep at the controls as the train approached a curve.

Also linked to sleep problems are heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and obesity. Short of any medical explanation for your sleep issue, such as sleep apnea, there’s good news. So much of improving sleep and being more productive the next day has to do with lifestyle and things that you can actually control.

Rather than convincing yourself that you're a bad sleeper, implement these suggestions:

1. Go to sleep only when you're tired.

The big mistake people so often make is that they go to sleep before they are ready, which leads to a cycle of not sleeping and worry about being up.

2. Change the way you think about sleep.

Poor sleepers frequently attribute just about every problem they have to the sleep issues. Change the negative thinking that might be associated with sleep. Know that some problems can be attributed to sleep while others have nothing to do with it.

3. Try relaxation exercises.

Guided imagery, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation have helped many of my patients quiet their minds and can help you, too.

4. Turn your alarm clock away from your view.

Have confidence that it will sound when it is supposed to. Looking at the time only increases anxiety about going to sleep and getting enough of it.

5. Be active during the day.

Doing so increases your drive for sleep. Including some form of aerobic activity will help with this too, but not too close to bed time.

6. Avoid caffeine (teas, coffee, soda) and spicy foods at least six hours before bedtime.

Both stimulate the body. Don't drink alcohol close to bedtime. Contrary to what many think, it won't make you sleep like a baby. It may knock you out initially, but within a few hours as the body starts to eliminate the alcohol, it will wake you or, at best, cause a restless sleep.

7. Make your sleep environment comfortable.

We spend on average 24 years of our life sleeping. Make sure the bed is the right size and firmness, the temperature is right, and the room is your preferred darkness. Many of my patients use a white noise machine to create an ambient sound that blocks out street distractions.

8. Shut off electronic equipment an hour before bed, including computers, phones, and televisions.

Light is incompatible with sleep and might trick the brain into staying awake when you should be sleeping. Also, the stimulation from these devices is counter to what you're trying to achieve. And by all means, do not sleep with your cell phone by your head. Unconsciously your brain may not allow itself to get into too deep of a sleep knowing a call/text might come through just inches away.

9. Turn off the mind chatter.

A few hours before bedtime write out all the things on your mind that need to be dealt with, and place it with your keys for the next day. Out of mind will help eliminate the chronic worry that so often keeps people up at night.

10. Use your bed for sleep and sex only.

Don't eat, work, or watch TV in it. Maintain a separation between bed activities and awake activities.

 

Published on: Jul 30, 2015
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