7 SLEEP SECRETS!
Sleep is critical to good health—but San Diegans aren’t getting enough of it. Try these tricks for a better night of zzzs.
On average, we’re sleeping one hour less per night than we did 50 years ago, says Dr. Gang Bao, medical director at American Sleep Medicine in Kearny Mesa. And almost one-tenth of the US population has chronic insomnia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you're not getting seven to nine hours per night, it’s time to change your habits, or sleep hygiene.
1. Eat a light dinner.
Heavy meals before sleep are a no-no. Eat a good, quality breakfast and lunch, but eat lightly at dinner. And as for alcohol? You guessed it: uh-void. People will tell you it has a sedative effect. But when the alcohol leaves your blood, says Bao, the body goes into withdrawal and causes a disturbance in your sleep. Wait one hour per drink before you go to bed.
2. Don't just lie there.
If you can’t fall asleep (or fall back asleep) within 30 minutes, get up and do something to distract yourself. When people stay in bed while the mind is active, they condition themselves with anxiety in bed. And the bed is a place for sleep!
3. Nap only if you're a good sleeper.
If you have problems sleeping, don’t nap during the day. You want to be able to sleep for one long block at night.
4. Lay off the coffee and smokes.
Caffeine and cigarettes cause chemicals in the central nervous system to activate and keep your brain awake. Restrict the coffee eight hours before bedtime, and smoking… come on, now. Give it up!
5. Exercise at the right time of day.
Exercise can tire the body and help you sleep, and Bao recommends moving at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. However, heavy, vigorous exercise before sleep time is not recommended. While everyone is different, try to finish that intense circuit training about two to three hours before bedtime. Better to relax and do yoga or meditate.
6. Keep the melatonin to small doses
Melatonin is a hormonal substance secreted in your brain when you fall asleep. It also comes as a supplement in pill form. If you are a good sleeper but you’ve got jet lag and need to shift your sleep onset earlier, it’s fine to take this natural substance. “However, I recommend 0.2 to 1 milligrams only,” Bao says. Many supplements come in 2.5- to 10-milligram doses, so watch what you buy, as too much melatonin puts the brain’s limited number of receptors on overload. “It’s a chemical substance, so you can’t say for sure that it’s harmless,” warns Bao. “Increased dosage may have side effects on other parts of the body.”
7. Get a regular schedule.
Regularity in your sleep schedule is muy importante. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution for shift workers. Nurses, security guards, and doctors on call all struggle. If possible, adjust your schedule relatively over time. If you work at night and sleep during the day, it’s better to keep it that way, every day, than to switch back and forth.
When to See a Doc
If your mind is busy and you constantly wake up in the middle of the night and it takes more than 30 minutes or an hour to fall back asleep—or not at all—that’s a problem, and you likely have insomnia. Waking up in the middle of the night doesn’t mean you don’t need sleep—it happens because you already slept four or five hours and your body no longer needs sleep immediately. When it becomes a chronic habit, it’s very hard to break. Few people can get themselves back on track without extra help. A cognitive behavioral therapist or behavioral sleep medicine specialist can give you techniques in addition to better sleep hygiene (no coffee, etc.). If you can’t sleep because of medical reasons, such as obstructive sleep apnea and breathing issues, see a doc.
// Erin Meanley