Nothing Like a Good Night’s Rest for Good Health

Next time you're wide awake at 3 AM, here is something to think about to pass the time: Is there something I could be doing to promote better sleep?

Sleep dysfunction affects all of us at some point in our lives, and some situations call for a treatment plan, while others require modest changes of habit or sleep environment, such as replacing an old mattress.

So, how do you know if you’re getting enough sleep? Here is a hint: what’s important is how well you sleep, not how long. The time required for sleep differs for everyone—an infant spends on average more than 12 hours sleeping, while his great-grandparents may only sleep four hours a night.

Another key question—how do you feel during the day? People who wake feeling refreshed and can stay alert throughout the day are getting enough sleep, even if it’s less than eight hours a night.

The list of potential causes of insomnia is long and includes stress, grief, changes in sleeping environment, medications, thyroid disorders, mental health conditions, neurological disorders, illegal drugs and alcohol.

If you aren't sleeping well, the first thing to evaluate is your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to the practices that support good sleep and regular sleep habits. These practices include:

  • Making sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.
  • Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Leave your problems at the bedroom door, and let them wait until morning!.
  • Associating your bed with sleep. It's not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read (unless it’s something guaranteed to make you drowsy!).
  • Exercising, whether it’s vigorous exercise earlier in the day or a relaxing with yoga right before bed.
  • Getting outside, and soaking up the natural light during the day. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, especially for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults.

Things to avoid include:

  • Napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Consuming stimulants too close to bedtime such as caffeine, nicotine, and even alcohol. Contrary to popular belief, having a ‘night-cap’ before bed is counter-productive; alcohol disrupts sleep cycles as it metabolizes in your body and thus will cause insomnia.
  • Eating large meals close to bedtime. Dietary changes can also disrupt sleep patterns, especially spicy food. And remember, chocolate has caffeine.

Good health requires good sleep—no exceptions. It is, as Shakespeare wrote, the “chief nourisher in life’s feast."