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Family Times
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 • Posted February 10, 2009

How to Get Quality Sleep: Tips to a Good Night's Sleep

Let's face it, sometimes getting enough good, quality sleep can be difficult. A baby awakens you (can you all see why this might be on my mind?); your spouse is snoring; you're caring for others in your home; it's hot and humid; the stress at work is keeping your mind running in circles, etc. Whatever the reason, sometimes sleep can be hard to come by. The following tips may help you make gains in the area of more quality and quantity sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day - even on the weekends, if possible. This schedule helps set your biological clock and makes it easier to wake up on Monday mornings. But if you are sleep deprived, you can “make up” that debt by catching a little extra sleep when you can.
  • Don't use your bed for anything but sleep and intimacy. Your bed should be associated with relaxation and sleep.
  • Exercise, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise often helps people sleep. Avoid exercising closer than 5 or 6 hours before bedtime, however, since exercise close to bedtime can stimulate and increase alertness.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Both caffeine and nicotine stimulate the central nervous system. The stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, colas, teas, and chocolate can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully. Tobacco users also experience nicotine withdrawal during sleep, and some have more nightmares than non-nicotine users, which disrupts sleep. Giving up tobacco may cause more sleep problems at first, but the long-term effect on sleep and health is much better.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. A 'nightcap' might help you get to sleep, but alcohol keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the sedating effects have worn off.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to awaken frequently to urinate. Try to finish eating all meals 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime.
  • Drink a glass of fat-free milk before bed. The amino acid tryptophan in the milk will help make you feel sleepy. In fact, all dairy foods are a good source of tryptophan. Tryptophan converts to melatonin and serotonin in the body - both of which are thought to induce sleep. Other tryptophan-containing foods include oats, bananas, poultry, and peanuts.
  • Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep, if possible. Some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies can disrupt sleep patterns. Consult your doctor.
  • Nap, only if necessary. Night owls and shift workers are at the greatest risk for sleep debt. Napping an hour or two at the peak of sleepiness in the afternoon can help these individuals to supplement hours missed at night. Try not to take naps after 3 p.m. Though naps can boost your brain power, late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Also, try to keep naps to under an hour. Ideally, naps should last 20-30 minutes for someone who is not working a night shift and needs some short-term alertness in the day. Those who take advantage of a 20-minute power nap during the work day report that they can then go back to work with renewed enthusiasm and energy.
  • Relax before bed. Take time to unwind. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, can be a helpful part of your bedtime ritual. Avoid watching a TV show or reading a book that is stimulating, frightening, or violent right before bed.
  • Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help relax you.
  • Have a good sleeping environment. Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable. Get rid of anything that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or a TV or computer in the bedroom. Keep the bedroom dark and the temperature on the cool side to help you sleep better. If the room stays excessively humid, you may want to try a dehumidifier. If it is excessively dry, consider a humidifier.
  • Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Don't lie in bed awake. Don't get in bed before you are tired. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • See a doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping. If you consistently find yourself feeling tired or not well rested during the day despite spending enough time in bed at night, you may have a sleep disorder. Your family doctor or a sleep specialist should be able to help you.

Source: “Health Hints”, Janet M. Pollard, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Health Specialist

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