Ways to get a better night’s sleep
Adequate sleep can lead to a healthy life, both physically and mentally
It’s estimated you will spend about one-third of your life asleep. Don’t look at it as wasted time. Sleep is when the body repairs and restores itself.
But are you getting enough sleep in order for this to occur?
“Most of us live sleep deprived, and we think it’s the norm and it’s not,” says Dr. James Daly, medical director of Southeast Sleep Disorders Center and pulmonologist with Southeast Lung Associates. “Americans are bad about sleep to begin with, and we don’t need to create more problems to continue that.”
Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, a third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount. In Georgia, 38 to 41 percent of adults report sleeping less than seven hours a night, according to the CDC.
Studies show adequate sleep is key to productivity, brain function, decision making and our overall physical and mental health. Poor sleep quality is linked to a decline in productivity and cognitive function, as well as a host of chronic health problems including depression, obesity and hypertension.
Signs of poor sleep include:
- Not feeling rested even after getting enough sleep
- Repeatedly waking up during the night
- Experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders such as snoring or gasping for air
- A lack of energy throughout the day
- Irritability, depression or anxiety
- Feeling groggy and having trouble concentrating and making decisions
So what do you do about it?
If you are among many that have trouble sleeping, there are some steps you can take towards a better night’s sleep. Let’s look at a few:
One solution for a better night’s sleep is through diet. Eating an adequate amount of calories throughout the day without over eating promotes healthier sleep patterns of seven to eight hours, says Andrea Manley, registered dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Manley points out that many of us tend to overeat our calorie needs at night before bedtime because we are socially eating or drinking, craving something sweet after dinner or watching a movie and not paying attention to our popcorn consumption.
And while we do use energy to sleep and in fact burn calories – even more so than sitting on the couch watching television – studies have shown that delayed eating can increase weight, insulin and cholesterol levels and negatively affect fat metabolism and hormonal markers implicated in heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.
So Manley suggests eating a varied diet throughout the entire day and to not avoid carbohydrates, but also not to eat excessive amounts of simple carbs such as sweets. She also recommends avoiding too many insoluble fibers, such as broccoli and legumes, prior to bedtime because these may cause GI upset, gas or bloating, which may prevent restful sleep.
If you are worried about caffeine or alcohol, yes those can also have an effect on your sleep. Caffeine affects people differently depending on tolerance levels, Manley says. Some may be OK to have a coffee or soda before bed, while others find it disrupts their sleep.
Regardless of how tolerant you may or may not be to caffeine, the stimulant can promote increased urination, breaking your sleeping pattern and causing poor sleep quality. In fact, drinking too much of anything, especially before bedtime, can cause frequent trips to the bathroom and poor sleep.
Additionally, alcohol has been shown to promote sleepiness; however, the quality of sleep is poor once asleep, Manley adds.
Stress and our hormones
How stressed we are and how that impacts our hormones also can cause poor sleep.
“If you are stressed and not managing that somehow, it affects your sleep because when we are stressed, we have a hard time falling asleep or we stay up too late,” says Julia Gammon, education specialists/dietitian with the St. Joseph’s/Candler Wellness Center. “Then, we don’t get enough sleep and that affects our hormone levels.”
Two such hormones are leptin and ghrelin, which control our appetite. Ghrelin, for example, tells us when we are hungry. If you are not sleeping enough, that hormone increases, and your body may think it needs food, even though it doesn’t, Gammon explains.
Leptin, on the other hand, tells us when we are full. When you are sleeping, our bodies increase this hormone to tell us we have the adequate amount of energy so we can sleep. However, if we are up late or constantly tired throughout the day, leptin decreases and ghrelin increases, making us feel hungry and eating more often. That can lead to weight gain, which in turn is a symptom of poor sleep.
To help control stress, Gammon recommends a meditation or yoga class. She also encourages walking, being outside, talking to a friend – anything that makes you feel calm and happy, she says. “It makes it a little bit easier to go to sleep at night.”
“I also tell people to try to get in a habit of a night time routine. Eat dinner, relax, get ready for the morning, whatever it is that gives your body those signals and cues that, ‘Hey, we are getting ready to go to sleep.’ Try not to scroll on your phone because we want to wind down our brain, not stimulate it more.”
Speaking of screen time – turn it off
One of Dr. Daly’s biggest pieces of advice for a good night’s sleep – put down the phone or tablet and turn off the television. That’s because the light cells in your eyes are very sensitive to the blue-light spectrum from our electronics.
“When that blue light is used at night, it stimulates our brains to be alert, so it works against our natural circadian sleep process,” Dr. Daly says. “It creates a competing influence.”
Dr. Daly advises you to get off your devices two hours before you go to sleep. Like to read in bed? Pick up a good ol’ book instead of your Kindle. Sleeping with the TV on? It’s one of the worst things you can do, he says.
“Because while your brain is asleep, guess what? Your eyes still see the light and your ears still hear the noise. It’s extremely disruptive,” says Dr. Daly. “When I have people sleep with the TV on and I watch them in the sleep lab, I can see their brain jolted by all the light changes and noises. You are just not getting your rest.”
If you need sound, Dr. Daly recommends a white noise program on your phone – one that doesn’t leave your phone illuminated, of course. There’s also electronic devices available or even a simple fan running can help.
Other tips for better sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sunlight in the morning and throughout the day
- Go to bed the same time each night and get up the same time each morning – yes, even on the weekends
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, relaxing and at a comfortable temperature