USE SLEEP HYGIENE TACTICS TO TAKE HEALTHY SLEEP INTO YOUR OWN HANDS
Starting a sleep hygiene routine might be the difference in quality, sound sleep and full daytime alertness. Why is this so important, besides feeling better every day? “Good sleep is needed by your brain to maintain higher levels of reasoning, problem solving and attention to detail, and to reduce your risk of depression,” says Dr. Howard Herman, president of ENT of Georgia South and CEO of South Atlanta Ambulatory Surgical Center in Buckhead. “It is also needed to maintain a well-functioning immune system, release growth hormones and reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.” For most adults, that means obtaining seven to eight hours of sleep.
Before speaking with your health care provider about taking supplements or medications, try these expert tips to avoid counting sheep and start counting hours of sleep.
Prep for Bedtime
Setting the stage for a good night’s sleep can be the difference in getting a full night of shut-eye. Start with dimming lights and lowering sounds. “Sleep hygiene also includes making sure the temperature of our rooms and bodies is comfortable—for most adults it’s 60-67 degrees—and ensuring that both our bodies and sheets feel clean and fresh,” says Lynda Sarkisian, a marriage and family therapist at Kate Ferguson Therapy and Associates in Buckhead.
Move Up Dinnertime
Herman recommends not eating or drinking anything but water for two to three hours before going to sleep. Eating late will reduce REM (dream) sleep, impact falling asleep and “increase nighttime awakenings, especially in women,” says Herman. “[It will also] boost nighttime insulin levels, which will cause a reduction in the growth-hormone release that is critical to maintaining muscle mass, mental function and heart health.”
Regular exercise can help us maintain quality sleep habits, but be careful about working out too close to bedtime. Herman says, “Strenuous aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes per day will reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the quantity of slow wave (deep) sleep, which is essential for restful sleep.” However, exercise right before shutting your eyes can make it more difficult to fall asleep due to raised body temperatures and heightened endorphins.
Avoid Sneaky Stimulants
We’ve all heard that we should put down devices that emit blue light before bedtime (and haven’t done it), but it’s worth considering. Blue light can decrease melatonin development and increase alertness, but more than that, these devices typically keep our minds on the move. “Engaging in mentally stimulating activities before bedtime can interfere with falling asleep, as well as staying asleep throughout the night,” says Sarkisian. Another stimulant is caffeine, which she suggests avoiding past noon. At the end of the day, sleep is personal to each individual. What works for one person might not work for the next. Use these tips as general guidelines and modify as needed to suit your body and mind.
SLUMBER TOOL KIT
Through trial and error, Sarkisian has developed a successful sleep rhythm for 30-plus years. “Remedies such as herbal supplements, the occasional prescription medication, aromatherapies and, most important, sleep preparation rituals have been most beneficial.”
Here, she shares her own “tool kit” for healthy sleep:
- Sound machine or fan for drowning out distracting sounds
- Heating pad for relaxing body tension
- Calming aromatherapy roller to soothe the senses and relax the mind
- Cup of chamomile tea for more soothing
- Melatonin or valerian root supplements when feeling extra stressed (Before taking any specific supplements or medications, she says it is important to speak with your health care provider.)
ENT of Georgia South – Buckhead
1218 West Paces Ferry Road
N.W., Suite 208
Kate Ferguson Therapy and Associates
4200 Northside Pkwy.,
Wellness columnist at Simply Buckhead and dog columnist at Atlanta Pet Life. Lifestyle writer specializing in women's interests, travel, people and interiors.