Sleep Well: Easier Said than Done
Researchers studying Alzheimer’s think that sufficient sleep is crucial for the consolidation of information we learn over the course our waking hours. That is why so many recommend a good night’s sleep as a way to protect against Alzheimer’s.
However, many people find a good night’s sleep to be an elusive goal. Below are some basic approaches to sleep, but all require consistent application to be effective. In addition, what works for some will not work for others, so experiment until you figure out what works best for you.
Set a Schedule
Our bodies have a natural wake-sleep cycle. You can sync with these natural rhythms more effectively if you establish a set time to go to sleep and to wake up each day, even on the weekends. If you deviate from this schedule and are sleep deprived, take a nap, but keep it short, no more than 30 minutes, and take the nap early in the afternoon.
Limit Food and Drink Before Bed
It is hard to get quality sleep on a full stomach. Don’t eat within two hours of bedtime, and if you do eat something, avoid spicy and fatty foods. Alcohol may allow you to fall asleep quickly, but it will also wake you after a few hours. Caffeine can impair your ability to sleep for up to 10 hours, so avoid caffeine after lunch.
Turn Off those Screens!
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced when we are in the dark. It makes people drowsy and promotes sleep. Conversely, melatonin is not produced when people are in bright light. Thus, people can improve their sleep if they get out in bright sunlight during the day and keep their sleep environment as dark as possible.
The use of television, computer and tablet screens reduce the production of melatonin as well as keeping us stimulated and mentally engaged. Turn off all televisions and computers at least an hour before bed, and don’t use a tablet to read in bed at night.
Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Those who study sleep encourage people to establish bedtime rituals that emphasize peacefulness and calm. They recommend taking warm baths, listening to music, reading a book, preparing for the next day, or other activities that are low stress and provide a sense of calm and well being. To be fully ready for sleep, plan on taking up to an hour of transitioning from evening activities to “lights out”.
The physical components of the bedroom are also important, starting with a comfortable mattress. The bedroom should be dark, using shades to block outside light, and eliminating clocks and electronics that emit bright lights.
Temperature matters too. People sleep better sleep when the room is no warmer than 65°, with a source of fresh air.
It is hard to sleep if you are feeling a lot of stress. Many find they can reduce stress through meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga and/or regular exercise. Breathing exercises are also popular ways to suspend stress, including the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
If you have adjusted your schedule and environment to get more sleep and find that you are still wide awake in the middle of the night, or still feeling exhausted in the morning even though you have slept, check with your doctor. There are medical conditions that can interfere with sleep.