How’s Your Sleep?

Summer schedules are coming to and end and new fall ones begin.  The shift in schedules can result in difficulties sleeping for some.  We know how essential sleep is for our energy and alertness.  Sleep also helps the brain work properly and improves learning.  Sleep may impact mood such as sadness and frustration as well as the ability to pay attention.  Sleep is also very important to physical health.  Sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels and sleep deficiency over time may contribute to health problems.  Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested.  This may contribute to difficulties maintaining a healthy weight.  Your immune system also relies on sleep to stay healthy. This system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances.  Perpetual sleep deficiency may make you more susceptible to illness.  So if you are having trouble sleeping, what do you do about it??

Here are some tips on improving sleep:

  • Avoid Napping. It can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid Stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol) When at all possible, but especially within a few hours of bedtime.  You might think that alcohol actually helps sleep.  Although alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Get Active. Vigorous exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.  A balance of good sleep and exercise will help with energy levels, even if you feel you are “too tired” right now.
  • Don’t eat right before bed or go to bed hungry.  Stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.  During the winter months, many find it helpful to take a Vitamin-D supplement to help with sleep and mood.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Put off those tough conversations and stimulating video games.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read. Retrain your brain!
  • Set up a regular sleep schedule.  Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – 7 days a week!
  • Don’t just lay there.  If you are having trouble falling asleep after 15-20 minutes, get up and do something else until you are tired again.  You want your brain to associate your bed with sleep, not with tossing at turning!

If you follow these and continue to have difficulties with sleeping, you may wish to consult with a mental health professional or your medical provider.

What are your biggest sleep difficulties?