We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep supports just about every part of the body, including the cardiovascular and immune systems. Healthy sleep is necessary for the brain because it helps us process information, learn, remember, and make decisions.
Sleep deprivation, that is, sleeping less than seven to nine hours per night for adults, can stem from poor sleep habits, uncomfortable environments, health conditions, or other factors. Sleep deprivation is also linked to greater healthcare utilization and more chronic health conditions. In other words, the less you sleep, the more likely you will need to see the doctor.
As a mobile occupational therapist, I help people who are older or who have chronic conditions adapt to their home environments and learn new strategies to do the things that are important to them. That includes making adjustments in their home and routine that help them get enough sleep!
Here are seven tips for improving your sleep habits:
Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Sleep is regulated by circadian rhythms, which are internal processes that tell you when it’s time to be awake and time to be asleep. These cycles repeat every 24 hours. To maintain your circadian rhythms, it’s recommended that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including on the weekend. (That means it’s actually a good thing if you wake up at 6 AM on a Saturday!) You can use alarms to help. If taking a daily nap at around the same time does not interfere with your sleep at night, enjoy!
Create a Nighttime Ritual
Try to stop working at least an hour before bed and use that hour to do a wind-down routine. For example, every night, you could put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, dim the lights, and read. Doing something calming can help you prepare for sleep, and routines help regulate your circadian rhythms. Meditating at any time of day has been shown to improve sleep.
Set up Your Environment like a Cave
Your environment plays a big role in your sleep. Research finds that people sleep better in a cave-like environment – cool, dark, and quiet. The ideal temperature to sleep in is 67 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because you need to drop your core temperature to fall and stay asleep. At night, you need darkness to trigger the release of a hormone called melatonin, which tells your body when it’s time to sleep. Try putting away screens and turning off or dimming lights an hour before bed. When sleeping, you can also try using eye masks or closing the curtains to achieve complete darkness. Noise can be distracting as well. Earplugs or white noise machines can help.
Try Not to Work in Bed
Have you ever fallen asleep while trying to work in bed? If so, that’s because you probably strongly associate your bed with sleep, which is good! On the other hand, if you have a hard time falling asleep, try not to stay in bed and scroll through your phone; it could lead to more insomnia. Try meditating or reading something relaxing or mindless in low light for about 20 minutes. If you still can’t sleep, get out of bed and continue doing something relaxing. Only go back to bed when you feel sleepy again.
Use Pillows and Towels to Support Your Spine
We sleep for approximately one-third of our lives, so keeping your spine aligned while you sleep can make a big difference in reducing pain. Try using pillows and towels to support your spinal curves.
Exercise (but not right before bed)
Exercise may help you sleep better. However, exercising right before bed can interfere with your sleep because it can be stimulating and also increase your body temperature. Stretching may help reduce pain and restlessness.
Choose Your Foods and Drinks Wisely
Eating large or spicy meals less than 2 hours before bed can lead to digestion issues and cause sleep discomfort. Try eating no more than a light snack 45 minutes before bed. It is recommended to only drink coffee in the early mornings. Even though alcohol is a sedative, it blocks REM or dream sleep, which is important for emotion regulation and memory. What you drink and eat impacts your sleep, which impacts everything else, so plan ahead! Sweet dreams.
Dr. Jane Bufe is the founder of Your Supportive Place, which provides in-home occupational therapy services throughout St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Charles, Missouri. While Jane supports a wide range of conditions – from ADHD to strokes to cancer, she conducted her doctoral research on sleep issues in the unhoused population. For more information, contact Jane at 314-200-2610 or visit www.YourSupportivePlace.com.