by Kimberly Blaker
As we approach the new year, health is often at the top of our resolutions. One area of health that affects your entire body is your sleep. So, how do you get better sleep and more of it?
We followed up with local sleep expert, Dr. Cathy Goldstein, to see what tips she offers to her patients.
Dr. Cathy Goldstein (Sleep Medicine & Neurology at University of Michigan Health) stated,
“Here are my favorite sleep tips, known as REST:
R: Recognition/Recogonize if you are devoting enough time to sleep.
You can’t cheat biology, 5-6 hours of time in bed is not enough. Wearables can help, but don’t let them make you crazy either. We don’t actually know the relevance of sleep stages/sleep quality and depth scores derived from wearables. Just make sure you are devoting enough time to sleep.
E: Environment Cool, dark, and quiet. Put your smartphone on do-not-disturb, as even vibration sounds can disrupt sleep. The bedroom environment is for sleep (and maybe some adult extracurriculars) only. Fans are great for white noise and cooling as high 60s is the ideal temperature in the bedroom.
Humans are highly conditioned, so if you start doing other things in bed like ruminating on the day, watching Netflix, working, or scrolling, you will associate the bed with other things than sleep.
Do not do these things! If you are lying in bed struggling to sleep, get up and do something relaxing in another dimly lit room.
S: Shut down You can’t go from 60 to zero. A wind-down routine helps to cue your body that it’s time for sleep, but you need more than just a bedtime skin regimen or book reading ritual.
Start dimming the lights within four hours of sleep onset. Light during this window of time (particularly blue spectrum light that your backlit electronic screens are enriched in) can push the internal clock later, making it hard to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, and harder to wake up in the morning.
If you are a night owl, I recommend using amber-colored blue-blocking lenses (blue spectrum lights are everywhere, given LED lighting).
T: Timing If you have to commit to one change for improving your sleep for the New Year: wake up at the same time every day, seven days per week (if that’s a deal-breaker on weekends, at least make it within an hour).
Waking up at the same time every day stabilizes and strengthens your circadian rhythm so that your body knows not only the time when you are supposed to awaken, but also the time you are supposed to fall asleep.
Getting lots of light upon awakening and during the daytime is critical for a robust circadian rhythm, so consider light therapy too. 10,000 lux, full spectrum lights for seasonal affective disorder work great.
Additionally, this stable wake time ensures you build up enough sleep hunger (homeostatic sleep drive) so your body is ready for bed at your desired bedtime.
A common downward spiral I see is sleeping poorly leading to sleeping in, which leads to catching more zzzs, only to then try to go to bed early the next night. But then your body isn’t biologically ready for sleep, so you get frustrated, sleep poorly again…and so on, over and over and over again.
Getting up at the same time each day to leverage your circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive really gets you “more bang for your buck” during the time you devote to sleep.”
But, for many, getting a solid night’s sleep is as elusive as winning the lottery. Getting too little sleep is so common that it’s become almost a badge of honor to get through each day with sleep deprivation. Even if you feel like you can function on little sleep, it’s actually debilitating, if not dangerous, to a person’s health and mental faculties.
Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of obesity, memory impairment, illness, and even hallucinations or death. Trouble falling asleep is a common problem, but sleep quality is also crucial for optimum brain function and recovery. Fortunately, there are many ways to train your body and mind to fall asleep more quickly and improve your sleep quality.
To recap Dr. Goldstein’s recommendations and to add to them, you can:
- Creating your own relaxing nighttime ritual. Starting a routine to wind down every night creates an association between nighttime habits and sleep, preparing your body to relax and fall asleep more quickly. Try drinking a soothing tea like chamomile. Or use aromatherapy with scents such as lavender that promote relaxation.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This gets your body into a regular sleep-wake pattern, which regulates your circadian rhythm and makes falling and staying asleep easier. It may be tempting to sleep in on the weekends to make up for lost sleep. But this may actually hurt you in the long term.
- Avoid alcohol at night. Though it may help you fall asleep, drinking alcohol before bed significantly reduces your sleep quality.
- Be careful with naps. A long afternoon nap can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. So keep naps short and as early in the day as possible.
- Track your sleep. Different technologies are available to track your sleeping patterns, including restlessness, awake and sleep times, and even how long you’re in each part of the sleep cycle. This can help you find how many hours you individually need for optimal function.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness. Regularly practicing these can help calm your mind and body. Progressive relaxation is one technique. Through it, you slowly focus on each part of your body, moving from head to feet, while releasing tension and consciously relaxing your muscles.
- Avoid screens an hour before bed. Looking at the bright light is stimulating. Likewise, so is much of the content on the screens. If you use screens at night, glasses like these at Verbena, are available to filter out the blue light to prevent eye strain.
- Use breathing techniques. One popular method to fall asleep is known as 4-7-8. First, breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Then hold your breath for 7, and exhale out your mouth for 8.
- Listen to soothing white noise, music, or podcasts. Many of these audio productions are designed to help put you to sleep.
- Stop drinking caffeine after midday. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can affect your mind and body hours after consumption.
- Make sure your room is dark for sleep and that you get natural light during the day. This regulates your circadian rhythm and provides external cues for your body.
- Exercise in the morning. Being physically active, especially early in the day, is associated with better sleep.
- Journal or keep paper by your bed. Do you have a hard time falling asleep because your mind is racing? Writing down your thoughts can help to keep them from swirling incessantly through your brain so you can relax.
- Use your bed and bedroom for sleep and sex only. This creates a specific association, so your body and mind know it’s time to rest. Also, keep electronics out of the bedroom.
- Try a natural supplement. Melatonin, magnesium, and CBD are some of the options touted as supporting relaxation and sleep. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking any supplements to ensure you do so safely.
If behavioral changes aren’t working, discuss your sleep concerns with your doctor. You may have an undiagnosed sleeping disorder that requires medical intervention. Depending on your doctor’s findings, medications and breathing treatments may help improve your sleep.