Ask Dr. Pat

Insomnia: 12 Steps to Improve Sleep

7. Control the bedroom environment: Keep your bedroom quiet and cool. Similarly, minimizing noise helps facilitate sleep. Although you may become accustomed somewhat to sounds at night—the constant low hum of traffic, for example—studies have shown that our bodies’ arousal system continues to respond to nocturnal noise, resulting in sleep disruption. Employing earplugs and white noise have both been shown to help. Finally, your body temperature goes down slightly during sleep, and a cooler room facilitates that; 65 degrees Fahrenheit tends to work for most people.

8. Dim the lights. Your circadian rhythm is the roughly 24-hour internal cycle that helps create your sleep patterns. Light exposure at night can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to fall asleep.  You may want to invest in a decent set of curtains or a sleep mask to cut down on street light. In addition to seeing that your room is dark, it’s important to reduce your light exposure even before going to bed. With all of us glued to our screens late into the evening, this exposure to blue light may be partially to blame for some of our sleep troubles. Experts recommend reducing screen time before bed. If turning off your devices isn’t an option, there are programs that reduce the blue light produced by your devices at night.

9. Exercise regularly. Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to help with sleep.  Although it is generally thought that exercise right before bed is not a good idea, that hasn’t necessarily been borne out in studies.  So, ideally, hit the gym earlier in the day, but don’t let the time of day stop you from exercising.

10. Begin a weight loss program for life. Obesity and poor sleep are often intertwined. Obesity can cause breathing problems such as obstructive sleep apnea that worsen sleep, and the poor sleep changes hormones that actually impede weight loss by increasing hunger.  Poor sleep causes daytime fatigue and interferes with the energy and motivation to exercise. Thus, by focusing on healthy diet choices along with exercise, you can both lose weight and improve your sleep.

11. Manage your stress. See a therapist to work with you to decrease negative thoughts about sleep disruption and  ruminating thoughts that you will not get back to sleep when you wake up, and to teach you meditative breathing and relaxation to help when you wake up.

12. Keep the rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is just that—a rhythm. You will likely find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep if you keep a regular sleep/wake schedule. When you switch around your schedule—staying up late on the weekends and sleeping past noon the following day, then trying to wake up at 6 a.m. on Monday—this variability throws off your body’s natural tendencies and makes sleep more difficult.  Maintaining a regular schedule can be helpful in decreasing sleep problems.  Ideally, this means that you keep a sleep/wake schedule on the weekend that is similar to the one you have during the week.

If you optimize your sleep habits and are still struggling, you may want to consider seeing a provider who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi), which takes a closer look at the behaviors and thought processes surrounding sleep, and has been shown to be effective for those with sleep issues.

Sleep has been described as the “mysterious one third of our existence.” Many of us are constantly in search of getting enough sleep and feel as though we are frequently not well rested when we get out of bed many days. Sleep hygiene, like all other body maintenance, is essential to improving the quality and quantity of our sleep.

Dr. Pat

 

Resources

Irish, L. A., Kline, C. E., Gunn, H. E., Buysse, D. J., & Hall, M. H. (2014). The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep Med Rev.

 

 

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