The trend in industrialized nations suggests people are increasingly sleep deprived. In today’s busy world, sleep is as important as diet and exercise. To charge through your day, you need to recharge at night.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is a building, healing, and rejuvenating period essential for the normal, healthy functioning of the human body. It affects our physical and mental health and our immune system's ability to fight disease and endure sickness. Poor sleep quality is also related to many health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Sleep enhances alertness, energy, mood, memory, reaction time, productivity, performance, communication skills, safety, and longevity. Most adults need eight hours of “good” uninterrupted sleep every night. Children, even teens, should get nine or more hours a night.
Why can't I sleep?
There are many factors that affect your quality of sleep regardless of your efforts to get to bed on time and fall asleep. Conditions such as asthma or allergies, chronic pain, stress, anxiety, or depression can prevent a good sleep.
Blood pressure and other medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants and muscle relaxants can affect sleep. Consult your regulated health professional before stopping or starting any medication in attempt to improve your sleep.
Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol can make falling asleep difficult. Changes occurring in your life such as a new baby or moving are disruptive, but often temporary. If you work shifts or travel frequently your body could be having trouble adjusting. A routine bedtime can help set your body clock and keep you on track.
Avoiding certain lifestyle habits and accommodating for others in a balance will help regulate your sleep schedule.
Your sleeping environment
For some people it’s all about where they sleep. Quick fixes could include purchasing a new bed, installing blackout window coverings, or ensuring your room is calm, cool, and quiet. Even listening to soothing music or background noise such as the ocean or white noise can help you relax and drift off.
There are over 70 sleep disorders. Some of the more common ones include insomnia, narcolepsy, parasomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
Good Sleep Habits
- Keep a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and get up at about the same time each day. Wake up time is particularly important – keep it the same, even on weekends;
- Sleep only as much as you need to feel refreshed during the day;
- Go to bed only when you’re feeling sleepy. Do not try to fall asleep - this only makes things worse. If you’re unable to sleep within 20 minutes, get up, leave the bedroom, and do something else (i.e., listen to quiet music, drink herbal tea) but avoid stimulating activities (i.e., smoking, watching TV, working). Return to bed when you’re sleepy. Repeat as necessary; and,
- Avoid taking daytime naps as they can be very disruptive to your nighttime sleep.
Important Lifestyle Tips
- Exercise regularly-ideally in the morning or afternoon, or at least four to six hours before bedtime;
- Don’t eat/drink anything containing caffeine (i.e., chocolate, tea, coffee, and cola) within six hours of bedtime;
- Don’t smoke or drink alcohol within three to four hours before bedtime; and,
- Try to set aside problem solving or worry time early in the evening (i.e., make lists of problems and whether there is anything you can do to solve them).
- Avoid worrying in bed.
- Limit the bedroom to sleep and sexual activity (the bedroom shouldn’t be an activity area - i.e., do not watch TV, eat, read in bed, or look at your phone or computer). Train your body to associate the bedroom with sleep;
- Keep your room comfortable, secure, quiet, dark, and cool (too hot or too cold will disturb sleep);
- Sleep alone if your bed partner is disturbing your sleep or if you worry about disturbing your partner; and,
- Keep pets out of the bedroom if they are disturbing your sleep.
Before bed rituals
- Avoid brain-stimulating activities such as playing video games or watching TV. Schedule relaxing activities before bedtime;
- Have a light snack before going to bed if you feel hungry; and,
- Have a warm bath for at least 30 minutes, two to four hours before bedtime.
If you continue to feel sleep deprived or have concerns about the quality of your sleep, talk to your physician or nurse practitioner; you may need a referral to a sleep specialist.