How to Sleep Better
Some people have difficulty getting sleep occasionally, while others experience chronic sleep problems that rob the of good health. A lack of sleep can make you feel tired and excessively sleepy in the daytime, but if this occurs often, your overall health may also suffer.
Studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep can lead to weight problems and other serious problems such as heart disease. It can also lead to premature aging, and worse, it may increase your risk for accidents while driving or at work.
What Causes Sleep Problems?
A variety of factors may affect the amount and quality of sleep, including shift work, excessive caffeine intake, alcohol consumption, sleep apnea, snoring problems, and disruption of our sleep-wake cycles. Our internal body clock or circadian rhythm regulates our sleep-wake cycles, which are also dependent on biological activities such as hormone production, brain activity, cell regeneration, and more. The circadian rhythm determines our sleeping patterns, and it normally sets the time when we sleep and wake up every day. This internal body clock is influenced by the 24-hour light-dark cycle, but its normal rhythm may be disrupted by various factors, such as jet lags, shift work, or other changes in sleep routines.
Stress and anxiety may influence our sleep patterns, and these may lead to depression and frequent use of sleeping pills or alcohol to induce sleep. Aging also contributes to changes in the normal sleep cycle, because after 40, people may experience more nocturnal (nighttime) awakenings, which may or may not affect the quality of sleep. Other factors include menopause, pregnancy, chronic pain, and frequent nocturnal urination may also cause chronic sleep interruptions.
Symptoms of Sleep Problems
People who have trouble sleeping or staying asleep may experience feeling tired and moody the next day. They may have difficulty concentrating and maintaining alertness, and may experience slow reflexes, which can increase their risk of making mistakes or getting into accidents. Excessive daytime sleepiness and a lack of feeling refreshed after sleep are also common. Studies suggest that people who lack sleep also tend to overeat and gain weight.
Chronic sleep deprivation can affect your health. Studies show that aside from having a poor quality of life, people may develop chronic disease such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and psychiatric problems from long-term sleep problems. Sleep disturbance has also been associated with institutionalization in elderly individuals. An increase in mortality risk has also been found in people who report less than six or seven hours of sleep per night.
How to Sleep Better
In most cases, people can improve their sleep patterns and the quality of their sleep by just following a healthy lifestyle, which also includes managing their stress. Here are some tips:
- Try to have a regular sleep schedule and stick to it.
- Expose yourself to bright light during the day, but sleep in a dark room at night.
- Make yourself comfortable by wearing sleep clothes and setting up a quiet, cool and dark room to sleep.
- Use your bed only for sleeping (and sex), and avoid working, reading, watching TV, or using the computer or other gadgets in it.
- If you do not fall asleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed and do something that can relax you, such as reading or taking a warm shower.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal just before sleeping.
- Avoid taking caffeine, alcohol, or other liquids close to bedtime.
- Stop smoking.
- Learn some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
- You can do some light exercises, but avoid strenuous activities just before bedtime.
- If you have to take a daytime nap, limit it to thirty minutes or less, but do this in the middle of the day and not close to bedtime.
- Ask your doctor about taking some health supplements that can help you sleep.
Diet Supplements that Help Improve Sleep
Some studies suggest that certain dietary supplements may help people sleep better. These include taking chamomile tea, lemon balm, and other herbal products like valerian root supplements, which are believed to have mild sedating properties. Other popular supplements include:
- Melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the body at night, which is also available as an over-the-counter supplement for short-term use.
- Glycine, a natural brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that improves sleep onset and quality
- Magnesium, which is found to be deficient in people who have trouble sleeping
- Calcium, which is important in the production of melatonin
- Lavender oil, which can help relax and calm your body and mind for good sleep
- L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, which may help fight anxiety, reduce heart rate, boost feel-good hormones, and improve immune response to stress.
Consult your doctor if these measures are not enough to improve your sleep. You may need a medical evaluation for an existing health condition, such as a snoring problem, sleep apnea or chronic pain that may be affecting the way you sleep. Ask about medications or supplements that may be causing your sleep problems.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your doctor or other health care providers (registered dietitian, nurse, pharmacist, etc) about your use, interest in, or questions about dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Chronic Sleep Deprivation May Harm Health.
WebMD. Understanding Sleep Problems — The Basics
WebMD. ‘Sleep Hygiene’ Solutions for Better Sleep.
WebMD. Natural Sleep Solutions.
Help Guide. How to Sleep Better.
Mayo Clinic. Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep.