Be Sure Your Daytime Habits Support a Good Night’s Rest
When it comes down to it, sleep hygiene is all about making decisions during the day that support a good night’s sleep. This doesn’t reflect just how long you sleep, but also how effectively you sleep. The quality of your rest matters as much as how long it is. One thing that can help drastically is getting outside during the day. Natural sunlight stimulates your circadian rhythm and helps your body regulate sleep and wake cycles.
The most effective light is morning sunlight. Just 20 minutes is enough to stimulate your circadian rhythm. You should also be sure you are using your bed only for sleeping. Laying in bed and watching TV on your day off or working in bed stimulates your mind. Aside from sleeping (and that one other exception), it’s important to have a dedicated area where you can go to rest.
Those stressful thoughts that keep you up at night don’t necessarily stop once you fall asleep. According to the Baylor College of Medicine, stressful thinking interrupts your sleep pattern even after you fall asleep. This happens because stress raises levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that activates your flight-or-fight response. When you cannot relax, you cannot get a deep sleep needed to feel rested.
Stress also has negative impacts on other areas of your life. It causes physical effects such as stomach upset, headache, muscle and chest pain, and changes in sex drive. Stress also has effects on mood including restlessness, feeling overwhelmed, sadness and depression, irritability, and lack of motivation. Finally, it results in behavior problems like drug, tobacco, and alcohol use, changes in eating habits, and social withdrawal.
For some people, relaxing before bed involves clearing their minds with meditation or journaling to get their thoughts out. Trying a hot bath or shower could also physically and mentally relax your body. The things you do during the day can also impact stress. Exercise releases stress and lowers cortisol levels associated with the fight-or-flight response. When possible, you should also prioritize or delegate tasks so things get done and there is less to stress about.
That being said, you cannot delegate everything that may stress you out. For example, relationship problems, sick family members or kids, deaths, and any number of other events like this cause stress. If things like this keep you up at night, try setting aside time to worry about them. In addition to relaxing, avoid doing things that could make you anxious like having hard conversations or watching scary movies.
While the thoughts running through your head before bed might make it seem like you are handling too much stress, sometimes that isn’t the only reason that you struggle to fall asleep at night. Insomnia can also be caused by mental health disorders like anxiety, bipolar, or depression, taking certain medications, and circadian rhythm disorders like jet lag which frequently happens to people who travel.
In addition to conditions and medications that affect sleep, your sleep habits play a critical role in the quality of sleep you are getting. By doing things like creating an environment that promotes sleep, you can improve how easily you sleep. Additionally, the things that you put into your body and what you do right before you go to sleep plays a huge role.
The things you do right before bed have a big impact on how soon you fall asleep after laying down. A nighttime routine can consist of anything that you find relaxing. You should start about 30-90 minutes before bed. During this time, avoid electronics like your phone, tablet, laptop, and television. Most electronics emit blue light that stimulates your brain and keeps you awake.
Aside from this, you should do whatever helps you relax. Some people enjoy a warm bath before bed or diffuse essential oils like lavender, chamomile, or ylang ylang oil. You could also lie in bed and read using a soft light or listen to relaxing music. By doing the same thing every night, your brain recognizes the routine and starts producing melatonin to help you sleep.
It is entirely possible that you lay down for 7-9 hours at the same time every night and do not wake up well-rested. This can happen even if you don’t remember waking up, particularly because we can be asleep without getting that deep, restorative REM sleep that our bodies and minds need. Most times, people who aren’t getting quality sleep wake up tired regardless of the hours they think they are getting at night.
Re-vamping your bedroom so it supports a good night of rest is important for overall health. Sleeping enough is critical for your day-to-day brain functioning and also impacts health in the long-term. If you consistently do not get enough sleep, it increases your risk of heart attack, heart disease, and diabetes. It can even cause memory loss, weaken your immune system, decrease fertility, and increase symptoms of mental disorders.
It’s really easy to just sleep on whatever mattress you have, with whatever blankets are already in the house. With the big role that sleep plays in your health, however, it makes sense that a good night’s sleep is something you should invest in. A good place to start is your mattress and pillow. Be sure they are soft enough to be comfortable but firm enough to provide support.
Next, be sure that the bedding you sleep in is clean and comfortable. Avoid materials that make you sweat. The best blankets changes depending on the temperature of your room, which should be cool to support a good night of sleep. Finally, block out excess light and sounds. You can use heavy curtains or an eyemask for lights and run a fan for background noise or use earplugs to eliminate sounds.
Someone who doesn’t struggle with sleep lies down at night and doesn’t wake up until the next morning. There is no waking in the middle of the night for bathroom breaks or because a car goes by. Turns out, the problem isn’t actually the light shining in your window or the car. It’s that your sleep environment isn’t promoting the quality of sleep that you need to feel rested.
Lights and noises are most disturbing when you are in those early stages of sleep before you reach REM. When you are in REM sleep, it’s likely that you’ll sleep through headlights shining through your window or even a train going by. That being said, you should still work to eliminate things that disturb you like this by darkening the room and using earplugs if noises wake you up.
Be Sure You Aren’t Putting Things in Your Body That Disrupt Sleep
Caffeine is something we use to wake ourselves up because it’s a stimulant, but drinking it too late in the day can disrupt sleep. Some people also may turn to alcohol or sleeping pills to get to sleep. Unfortunately, both of these things have consequences. Regular sleeping pill use makes your body dependent on them, while alcohol actually disrupts the quality of your sleep once the effects wear off.
Even eating too much food before bed makes it harder for you to fall asleep and wake up rested. Your body is still focusing on digestion, so it doesn’t have as much time to rest and repair. Additionally, eating spicy foods or foods that irritate the digestive tract disrupts sleep. This doesn’t mean you should go to bed hungry, but avoid heavy foods three hours before bedtime and keep snacks light.
Believe it or not, everybody doesn’t get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Research from the International Neurology Journal sampled more than 2.100 adults and found 28.4% voided their bladder at night, while 8.9% woke up to use the bathroom an average of three times. If you have a hard time falling asleep, this makes it nearly impossible to get a full night of rest.
Nocturnia can have simple causes like drinking too many fluids before bed or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. However, it can also be caused by a bladder obstruction or urinary tract infection that needs medical intervention. Other times, an inability to hold urine all night indicates underlying health problems like Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, congestive heart failure, and edema.
Take Steps to Reduce Frequency of Urination at Night
If you wake up to pee at night, start reducing how much you are drinking before bed. While a sip or two of water if you get thirsty is okay, drinking too much water makes it more likely you’ll wake up at night. People who drink alcohol are also more likely to pee at night. Alcohol suppresses the ADH hormone that tells your kidneys to hold fluids in hydration reserves, making you evacuate.
If decreasing fluid intake and avoiding alcohol don’t help, talk to your doctor about other health conditions that might be contributing to this. Conditions like diabetes, for example, extract fluid from tissues to process sugar in the bloodstream, which makes you have to pee. Finally, use a nightlight instead of big, bright lights if you do wake up and avoid looking at your phone.
If You Don’t Wake Rested After a Full Night of Sleep…
Sometimes, the problem with our sleep habits is that our body and mind aren’t falling deep enough into sleep. Sleep is something that happens in cycles, including wake, N1, N2, N3, and REM. As you move through the stages, you fall deeper asleep. The “N” stages are non-rapid eye movement sleep, so they do not provide the same quality of sleep as REM (rapid eye movement) stage.
Reaching REM is important for waking fully rested. The REM stage is when your body is at ideal rest when it can store memories and consolidate what you’ve learned throughout the day. This is also the stage when you dream. Interestingly, the amount of REM sleep that you need each night varies based on your age and how much you learned.
Researchers aren’t sure how exercise improves sleep. According to John Hopkins, however, research shows that the amount of slow-wave sleep you get improves with moderate exercise during the day. While exercise does have its benefits, you should actually avoid it if it’s too close to bedtime. Exercise releases endorphins that stimulate the brain, even if you are physically tired after a workout.
In addition to exercising during the day, it could be helpful to stretch at night. People who work in fields where they sit in the same position or perform repetitive movements might have muscle stuffiness that could disrupt a good night’s sleep. Stretching your upper body and neck releases tightness. Yoga poses like Cat-Cow and Child’s Pose also promote a good night of sleep.
According to research, there’s a prevalence of sleep disorders in people who have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). In addition to conditions like chronic insomnia, people with these conditions might just generally have low-quality of sleep. To make matters worse, this low-quality sleep also makes people with IBS and IBD more likely to develop leaky gut syndrome, which is incredibly damaging to health.
Researchers aren’t really sure if it’s the IBS or IBD that causes sleep problems or if sleep problems contribute to the development of these conditions. What is known is that not getting enough sleep affects your gut health and makes it more likely you’ll have flare-ups. Additionally, not resting well reduces your body’s ability to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, further complicating the issue.
People who work third shift have a unique set of challenges when it comes to getting enough sleep. Not only does it cause confusion for your body that makes it hard to fall asleep, but research shows that the average third-shift worker gets 2-4 fewer hours of sleep than most people. This is problematic because long-term sleep deprivation comes with a host of health issues.
The biggest issue with being a third-shift worker and getting the sleep you need is that you fight against your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Workers are up at night when there is no sunlight to stimulate staying awake naturally. This can make it harder to do your job. Additionally, you try to sleep during the day, when natural sunlight exposure stimulates your brain.
It’s even more important to stick to a sleep routine for people who work thirds than it is for the average person. Because you are awake when it’s dark outside, your body can’t rely on its natural circadian rhythm for sleep. However, you can make it easier to sleep by eliminating light in your bedroom with blackout curtains. Earplugs also eliminate distractions, especially if you live with people.
For third-shift workers, naps can also be incredibly helpful. Try napping for about 90 minutes before you start your work day, giving yourself at least 20-30 minutes to wake up and get ready before work. It can even be helpful to take a nap on your lunch break if it doesn’t disrupt your ability to focus too much. Finally, if you work changing shifts, try shifts that rotate counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. They make it easier to adjust your sleep.
While an overactive thyroid is more common in adults over 60, it’s estimated that 1 in every 100 Americans over the age of 12 have hyperthyroidism. Basically, an overactive thyroid means your body produces too many thyroid hormones. This comes with a lot of symptoms that interrupt sleep, including a racing heart, tremors, and sweating.
People with an overactive thyroid have excess levels of the hormone thyroxine. Too much thyroxine causes several symptoms, including a rapid, irregular heartbeat, irritability and mood swings, nervousness and anxiety, and sensitivity to heat. It can also speed up your metabolism and cause diarrhea and weight loss. There are a lot of things that can cause thyroid problems, from your diet to health conditions like Graves disease.
There are a lot of medical treatments for overactive thyroid. Options include anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine treatments, and surgery. These all deactivate the thyroid and usually require lifelong thyroid supplements. Beta blockers may also be prescribed to relieve symptoms, but they don’t treat the thyroid. The foods you eat also play a role in thyroid health and can be used as an alternative treatment in moderate cases.
For example, iodide stimulates the thyroid so people with hyperthyroidism are often prescribed a low-iodide diet. This means avoiding processed and restaurant foods, egg yolks, iodized salt, seafood, kelp and seaweed, soy, and foods that trigger allergens. Allergens make hyperthyroidism worse. Adding foods and supplements that support the thyroid like B vitamins, selenium, antioxidants, and L-carnitine also helps.
Acid reflux or GERD happens when the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus doesn’t close all the way. When you eat, levels of stomach acid rise and splash up. They can also enter your esophagus, which causes discomfort associated with acid reflux. In addition to being uncomfortable, acid reflux also disrupts sleep.
Surprisingly, acid reflux has also been linked to a higher occurrence of sleep apnea. Around 60% of people with sleep apnea also have GERD. It’s not known why these two things are connected, but it is there. The foods you eat could also be affecting your sleep if they make you feel gassy. This bloating causes discomfort that stops you from falling into a deep sleep.
Eating too close to bedtime is one of the worst habits for your body. For people with acid reflux, having a full tummy raises acid levels and makes it more likely you’ll experience discomfort. Additionally, eating foods that are especially heavy, greasy, or spicy right before bed also causes discomfort. Finally, knowing your digestive tract and what foods cause irritation helps know what to avoid.
Even though you don’t want to eat too close to bedtime, you also shouldn’t go to bed hungry because it can disrupt sleep. For people who struggle with diabetes or low blood sugar, there is also a risk of levels bottoming out. The key here is eating the right types of food as a snack before bed. Have a small snack no later than 90 minutes before bed and make it something with fiber and protein, rather than something filled with sugar or simple carbs.
The things we eat play a big role in the quality of sleep you’re getting. While we’ve already talked about greasy, spicy foods, certain foods you don’t realize are stimulants can also harm your ability to get a good night of sleep. Avoiding caffeine for up to six hours before bedtime is a given. But did you know that some kinds of chocolate, tea, and soda have caffeine that could be keeping you up at night?
Eating high-fat or highly processed foods that your body has a hard time digesting is also something that should be avoided for up to four hours before bedtime. If your body is still working on digestion when you lay down, it isn’t going to fall into that deep, restorative stage. Additionally, these heavy foods make it more likely you’ll need a bathroom trip to evacuate waste in the middle of the night.
In addition to altering what you eat before bed, adding certain foods to your diet helps you get a better night of rest. In one study, researchers had participants consume kiwi fruit before bed and found that it improved sleep onset, quality, and duration. This is likely from the high levels of antioxidants and the hormone serotonin found in the fruit, which has been linked to a good night’s rest.
Kiwi is not alone in its ability to help you rest. Some other recommended foods include tart cherries that promote the production of melatonin, fatty fish and nuts that regulate the hormone melatonin, and malted milk that’s been linked to a full night of sleep. Eating foods rich in tryptophan like cottage cheese, turkey, chicken, and pumpkin seeds can also promote melatonin production for better sleep.
When your doctor prescribes medication as a treatment for something, they generally weigh the pros and cons. I have yet to see a medication without at least some kind of mild side effects and sometimes, those side effects mean that you aren’t getting a full night of sleep. Sometimes medication makes it harder to fall asleep and other times, it might cause sleep disturbances.
Sleep disturbances cover everything from decreased REM sleep to actual disturbances including waking frequently and nightmares. Some prescription drugs known to cause problems with sleep include alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, SSRI antidepressants, ACE inhibitors, non-sedative antihistamines, corticosteroids, and statins. This is far from being a complete list. If you do take medication and are having problems with sleep, it’s worth addressing with your doctor.
Talk to Your Doctor About Adjusting Medication That Disrupts Your Sleep
Unfortunately, losing sleep is a side effect that’s pretty common with certain medications. Since a lack of sleep can actually make symptoms of certain conditions worse, it’s important that you address this with your doctor to help find balance. They might suggest switching when you take the medication or try adjusting the dosage so the side effects aren’t as strong.
In other cases, your doctor might decide to try another medication to manage your illness completely. Even if you know that your prescriptions are causing problems, it’s important that you talk to your doctor before adjusting your dosage or discontinuing them. Some conditions become life-threatening when they aren’t properly managed and stopping meds cold turkey could lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Mental health and sleep have a relationship where it’s hard to tell which one affects the other more. People who have conditions like anxiety or depression often have trouble forming good sleeping habits. The brain processes emotional content during the REM stage. For people who have trouble reaching this, it can have disastrous consequences for their mental health the following day.
Failing to get REM sleep has also been associated with failure to process positive emotional content. Research shows that a lack of sleep affects things like impulse control and your ability to regulate emotions. Furthermore, not resting well increases the risk of mental health symptoms, including suicidal ideations. Obstructive sleep apnea also shows a strong correlation to poor mental health.
Managing mental health is a challenge. It requires a balance of eating foods that promote mental health, managing life stresses, developing good coping skills, and getting enough sleep. While it can be exhausting to try to manage all this, talking to your doctor about how you can get better sleep at night can help your mental health symptoms drastically.
People who struggle with mental health can also be drastically helped by following a nighttime routine to help them relax. It’s incredibly easy to lose sleep when you are worried about the things that are stressing you or playing depressing thoughts in your head. Find a nighttime routine that helps you relax and talk to your doctor about medication for sleep if you think it will help.
It’s estimated that around 7-10 percent of the population struggles with Restless Leg Syndrome, also called RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease. It’s a condition that anyone can experience, regardless of age. However, women are more likely to experience RLS than men. Even though the symptoms of RLS are most commonly felt at night, it even affects your life during the day.
Often, people with RLS report symptoms of discomfort in their legs. This is compared to feelings of crawling, throbbing, itching, and aching and it happens when you are at rest. This sensation makes it incredibly difficult to fall asleep, so people with untreated RLS are often tired the next day. It can even lead to exhaustion severe enough to impact your ability to work.
Treating RLS comes down to finding out what caused it. Some people experience these symptoms as a result of disease but in other cases, it can be caused by nerve damage, iron deficiency, hemodialysis, and end-stage renal failure. Symptoms of restless leg syndrome can also be exacerbated by alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine consumption.
In the event that your RLS is not the result of an underlying iron deficiency or something else, it’s likely a physician will prescribe medication that relieves your symptoms and makes it easier to get a full night of rest. This can include everything from drugs to increase dopamine levels associated with RLS symptoms to muscle relaxers. You can also help relax muscles by taking a hot shower or bath before bed.
People experience racing thoughts for a number of reasons. They might struggle with a mental health condition or mood disorder like anxiety or bipolar. Other people might struggle with racing thoughts because they live a stressful life or are experiencing a stressful event like the loss of a job, divorce, or even the death of a pet or family member.
Unfortunately, racing thoughts interrupt sleep and this creates a cyclic issue. When your brain doesn’t rest enough, it has a hard time focusing and may jump from thought to thought. This increases the chance of racing thoughts, particularly in people who already have anxiety or another condition. While medication can help manage anxiety, taking other steps to relax before bed also helps.
Practice Mindfulness During the Day and Before Bed
For people who worry, whether it’s caused by anxiety, stress, or something else, mindfulness can have a huge impact on how quickly you can let go of those thoughts and get some sleep. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. This means that when a negative thought interrupts you from trying to drift off to sleep, you acknowledge it and then let it go.
Mindfulness isn’t something most people get the hang of the first time that they try it, but you will get better with practice. Start by sitting in a quiet and taking a few deep breaths. Then, try to clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Some people start by visualizing something like a stop sign or apple to keep their minds focused. If you have interrupting thoughts, acknowledge them and let them pass, without dwelling on them too much.
While it’s estimated only 12% of women experience sleep difficulties, that number jumps drastically to 40% when you are talking about women in their 40s and 50s. The reason for this increase is the increased likelihood of menopause, which happens pretty commonly around this age. Menopause comes with a lot of uncomfortable symptoms as your body adjusts to lower estrogen levels.
Some uncomfortable symptoms include increased heart rate and body temperature associated with hot flashes. At night, hot flashes are known as night sweats. It’s not uncommon for episodes to last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, but it’s often enough to wake a woman up and disrupt her sleep.
While there is no guaranteed method to get rid of hot flashes, you can greatly improve your chance of having a good night’s rest by making your sleeping environment a lot cooler. Keep temperatures cool. While you should go with whatever is most comfortable, experts recommend a sleeping temperature of around 65 degrees or lower for the average person.
The clothing you wear to bed also makes a difference. Opt for lightweight, breathable fabrics that won’t trap your skin and make you sweat. Using a fan at night or trying cooling blankets, mattresses, and pillows can also help. Finally, if symptoms are severe and night sweats don’t stop, talk to your doctor about other options like supplementing estrogen to relieve menopause symptoms.
Snoring is one of those things that people mistakenly believe affects other people more than themselves. While it seems like a nuisance, it can actually disrupt the quality of your sleep along with your partner’s. Other times, snoring might be a sign of sleep apnea or another serious condition that requires medical intervention, especially if it’s happening because your airway is being closed.
Snoring happens when something blocks the air from flowing freely out your nose at night. Some people experience it because they have extra tissue in their throat that blocks their airway, while other people experience it because of the position of their tongue. When air doesn’t flow freely, it causes the vocal cords to vibrate loudly in the throat and results in snoring.
Since snoring happens because there isn’t enough airflow through the nasal cavities and throat, it makes sense that anything that opens this area up would help. Some people have effectiveness using over-the-counter nasal strips that open up nasal passages. Another solution is changing the position that you sleep in since your tongue is more likely to close the airway if you are on your back.
People who are overweight are also more likely to snore (and develop sleep apnea), so getting healthier could also help in some cases. You should also avoid smoking, drinking, and certain medications that make snoring worse. Finally, be sure to talk to your doctor if snoring is accompanied by waking up suddenly or breathing stopping at night. This could indicate sleep apnea, which can be dangerous.
The Cleveland Clinic estimates that around 1-in-3 people middle age and older take some type of sleeping pill to help them rest. Insomnia becomes more common as you age and sleeping medicine does offer relief for some people. Some sleeping pills work by making you drowsy, while others might quiet the area of the brain that keeps you awake.
While sleeping pills are a good way to get a good night’s rest, even more natural options like melatonin can have side effects. Certain sleeping pills make it hard to wake up even after a full night of sleep, making you feel groggy and disoriented at the beginning of your day. There’s also a risk of dependence since your body doesn’t need to produce melatonin as usual to help you sleep.
While sleeping pills do offer short-term benefits, they aren’t really meant to be a long-term solution. They do have a purpose for those nights when a particularly stressful event or a death in the family are interrupting sleep. However, research shows that people who take sleeping pills only fall asleep 8-20 minutes faster. This means total, you might only be improving your sleep duration by about 35 minutes.
Developing good nighttime habits remain one of the best ways to help yourself get a full night of rest. Aside from underlying medical conditions keeping you up, the average person can have good quality sleep by practicing sleep hygiene. Plus, doing things like properly unwinding at night is a lot safer for your body and naturally promotes the production of serotonin which makes it easier to sleep.
For some people, improving sleep hygiene doesn’t necessarily fix their ability to sleep. If you have tried having a better sleep routine, relaxing before bed, unplugging from electronics, and making your sleep environment one that supports a good night of rest and it still doesn’t help, it may be time to talk to your doctor about other possible causes.
In most cases, your doctor will ask questions about your nightly routine and the place where you sleep. Try to answer as honestly as possible, even if the answer isn’t one that your doctor necessarily likes hearing. In most cases, your doctor will use this information and possibly do additional tests to find out what exactly is causing your sleeping troubles.
In most cases where another cause can’t be identified, doctors will recommend a sleep study. It’s not like you can really monitor yourself sleeping, so this gives professionals a chance to find out what’s going on. In addition to disrupting your sleep, conditions like sleep apnea actually block your airways and stop your ability to breathe, so they can be dangerous.
Also, keep in mind that sleep apnea isn’t the only sleeping disorder that you may struggle with. Insomnia, RLS, circadian rhythm disorders, narcolepsy, and even snoring can disrupt your ability to get a full night of sleep. Children may also struggle with night terrors, while pregnant women might not be able to sleep because of the increase of hormones from being pregnant. The only way to find out the exact cause is by working with someone who specializes in sleep.