The previous installment of this blog series outlined strategies for anyone to get better sleep. This installment is targeted to those with struggle with sleep and includes tips for avoiding disruptive sleep behaviors and tips for solving some common sleep issues.
6 Tips on what NOT to do for better sleep
1. Don’t nap during the day – Sorry to tell you! Your homeostatic sleep-wake system keeps track of your body’s sleep, waking and alertness. The homeostatic sleep drive reminds you to go to sleep by sending out hormones that make you feel sleepy. This sleepiness drive gets stronger every hour you are awake. Napping can decreases this natural sleep drive. If you do nap, try keeping them short.
* The post-partum period is an exception to this tip. Until your baby is sleeping through the night consistently, the old adage that you should sleep when your baby sleeps is a good idea.
2. Don’t sleep in too late – Sorry again! As I mentioned last week, your brain loves routines. Sleeping in too late or having sleep schedules that vary widely can have adverse effects on your brain’s ability to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
3. Don’t do the afternoon Starbucks run - Avoid stimulants like coffee or caffeinated sodas in the afternoon. Caffeine has a long half-life and stays in your system longer than you think. It varies by person and situation, but experts say your caffeine cut off time should be anywhere from noon to 2PM.
4. Don’t have that nightcap – Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows down your brain and can help you go to sleep. However, those effects wear off quickly and it is believed that your brain becomes more active as the alcohol is metabolized by the liver. The more you drink, the more your REM sleep is disrupted, which can wreak havoc on your concentration, memory and motor skills the next day.
5. Don’t expose yourself to bright light – Exposure to any light suppresses the release of melatonin, the main hormone in your homeostatic sleep-wake system. Blue light, the type of light that comes from electronic devices suppresses melatonin significantly more than natural light. Try charging your phones outside of your bedroom to avoid checking Twitter. If you do use electronic devices, try downloading a blue light filter App and keep your screen as far away from your face as possible.
6. Don’t stress! Your limbic system is in charge of regulating stress and releasing the hormone cortisol, which can disrupt your ability to fall asleep. Avoid working/studying in an area where your bed is visible because this can cause your brain to associate your bed with potential stressors. Also, try turning your clock around as mental calculations on how much sleep you are or are not getting can only keep anxieties high.
Tips for Coping with Common Sleep Issues
Try Mindfulness – To help with problems falling asleep due to anxiety or stress, think of a calming image like a neutral color. As stressful thoughts occur, accept them without judgment and refocus on the original thought or image. Repeat.
Or try busying your mind – To distance your mind from anxieties or worries try, simple mental tasks to busy your mind, like thinking of a food to match each letter of the alphabet, or counting sheep.
The 20 minute rule – When you notice difficulty falling asleep, get out of bed and try doing a non-stimulating activity such as reading or cleaning for 20-30 minutes. Then go back to bed and keep doing this until you fall asleep. The goal is to avoid associating your bed with the stressful experience of trying to sleep and failing.
Go Camping – A 2013 sleep study found that a week camping in natural light and without electronic devices increased participants’ melatonin levels and recalibrated their sleep cycles.
Talk to a Specialist – Your primary care physician can help with sleep issues, especially when you are coping with insomnia, sleep apnea or another sleeping related disorder. In some cases they may refer you to a Sleep Specialist. Mental health professionals can help with managing anxiety and stress, which can contribute to difficulties falling and staying asleep.
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