We live in a sleep-deprived culture.
Although the National Institute of Health recommends 7-8 hours of sleep each night for adults, many of us don't get that. A 2009 U.S. survey found that more than a third (35.3%) of adults reported less than 7 hours of sleep, and that even more (37.9%) reported falling asleep unintentionally at least once during the prior month. The CDC has gone so far as to call our collective lack of sleep a public health emergency.
It's not just that poor sleep makes us cranky. It also makes us more accident prone and more susceptible to chronic diseases.
Sometimes our lack of sleep is by choice. Our hyper-connected culture makes it easy for us to work and play longer, and then we skimp on our sleep time.
Sometimes we want to sleep, but have difficulty. Studies estimate that nearly 1 in 3 adults report at least occasional insomnia. For those of us working on sleeping better, there are several self-care approaches that we can use to help us rest well:
1. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene — Sleep hygiene refers to all the habits that we have related to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a number of sleep-promoting habits including:
- Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day
- Having a regular bedtime ritual
- Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or heavy meals in the evening
- Using a comfortable pillow and mattress
- Avoiding bright light in the evenings (and getting bright light in the mornings)
- Limiting exposure to light in the bedroom (such as light from windows or electronics)
- Restricting use of the bedroom to sleeping and sex
- Turning the thermostat down to between 60-67 degrees at night
- Minimizing exposure to loud noises
2. Exercise Regularly - Getting regular vigorous exercise promotes better sleep. Period.
3. Practice Relaxation - Regular practice of a relaxation technique rewires your brain and helps you relax more readily. Research on practices like meditation and yoga have demonstrated positive brain changes among groups who practice these approaches. Other relaxation techniques include guided imagery, Tai Chi, stretching, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. If none of these appeal to you, you can also relax by doing something that calms you like reading a book, listening to soft music, or taking a warm bath.
4. Mind Your Mindset - Ruminating about the past or worrying about the future can make sleep hard to find. In addition to your physical bedtime routine, it can be helpful to have a mental routine that prepares you to rest well. Avoid emotional triggers before bedtime like watching the news, getting into arguments, or reading intense material. Prayer or writing can be a great way to wrap-up your day. Whether you write your thoughts in a journal or on a worksheet, use this opportunity to note your accomplishments, set aside worries, list future to-dos, and make a gratitude list. Then declare your day complete.
5. Get Help from Your Health Care Provider - If the approaches you're trying aren't working, your primary health care provider may offer additional recommendations or testing. A number of conditions such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, depression, anxiety or an overactive thyroid can interfere with sleep. Before you seek care, you might also consider using a sleep diary to collect information about your sleep habits. In addition to providing you with useful insights, it can also help your health care provider know how best to assist you.
What about you? What helps you get better sleep? Please share your experiences in the comments below!