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Healthy Sleep Guidelines
- Regular daily exercise is one of the best ways to assure healthy, good quality sleep. When you exercise, your body temperature fluctuations throughout the day become more accentuated. This allows your body to achieve the deeper stages of stage 3 and 4 sleep, stages that are more rejuvenating for your body. In fact, exercise is the only known way to achieve larger amounts of stage 3 and 4 sleep. This week, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. See if you notice a difference in your sleep.
- Avoid alcohol at night. Alcohol is sedating so it does induce stage 2 sleep, but it disrupts the deeper stages of 3 and 4 sleep. It is also metabolized quickly over a one to two hour period, and once metabolized, your body emits a pulse of epinephrine which is stimulating, waking you from sleep. Avoid nightly alcohol this week and see if you sleep better.
- Caffeine is metabolized slowly over 7 to 12 hours. If you drink 4 cups of coffee at 9 am and you are a metabolize slowly, you may have 2 cups of coffee left in your system at 9 pm. Try to limit caffeine to no more than 2 cups of coffee before noon.
- Try to keep your hours of bedtime consistent, getting up around the same time every day, engaging in a familiar and calming bedtime ritual each night. Avoid paying bills or checking email right before you go to bed. Stimulating mind activities right before bed make it harder for the brain to slow down and shift into sleep mood.
- Keep your bedroom uncluttered, without obvious work task reminders.Your room should be dark, quiet and on the cool side while you sleep.
- If you find it hard to relax once you have gone to bed, try slow, deep breathing. Visualize a scene you find relaxing. You can also try progressive muscle relaxation where you tighten up one area of the body such as your feet, concentrate on the tightness, then relax and concentrate on the heaviness of that part of the body. Work your way from one part of the body to the other. This is quite an old technique but works well for a lot of people.
- If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night frequently with racing thoughts or worries, have a paper and pen by the bedside. Without even turning the light on, you can jot down the thought that woke you up. Tell yourself that you are going to let it go until the morning. This simple technique works amazingly well. It allows your brain to let the thought go and not perseverate on it.
- Other sleep busters are nicotine which stimulates the brain, decongestants in some cold medications that are also stimulating, and a few prescription medications. If you do have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about whether you would be best taking your medication in the morning. If you smoke, know that once you stop smoking, your sleep will improve.
- Expose yourself to sunlight if you want to increase alertness. Sunlight decreases the levels of melatonin. It has to be sunlight however. Artificial light emits only 500 Lux of light while sunlight emits 10,000- 100,000 Lux of light. Light boxes, which you can purchase, do emit 10,000 Lux of light, so if you live in a particularly northern location and it is winter, this might be an option to try.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t lie there fretting about the time. Don’t watch the clock- keep it turned around so you don’t stare at it in desperation. If you can’t fall asleep after about 15 minutes (you don’t know exactly because you aren’t watching the clock, remember?) get up and leave your bed. Do something quietly until you feel drowsy. Then get back into bed and see if you fall asleep. What you don’t want to do is spend endless hours in bed agitating over how tired you are going to be the next day. You want your brain to associate the bed with sleep and not identify it as a torture chamber.