Of all the things we sacrifice in the course of our busy day – grabbing a quick meal instead of a healthy one, skipping a workout to work late – skimping on sleep is the one we can afford the least. Not getting enough zzz’s can lead to an increased risk of obesity and high blood pressure. It can even jeopardize your safety while driving.
But the biggest problem when it comes to sleep is how many Americans engage in what’s called “sleep restriction,” or not getting enough rest through their own habits and choices. Our bodies demand sleep, but when we don’t make it a priority, it becomes a health problem. The ever-growing demands of daily living aren’t helping, either.
If you are concerned with getting the right amount of shut-eye, it’s important to make sure your environment supports your sleep goals. Henry Ford sleep medicine specialist Christopher Drake, Ph.D. offers the following tips for how you can make sure you’re getting your best sleep:
- Stick to a schedule. Wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends. It might sound like a drag, but sleeping in messes with our internal clock so much that it can’t reset in time for Monday. Then you’ll find that you can’t get to sleep at a normal hour during the week, you’ll wake up tired and the cycle will continue. You may not like the alarm clock on the weekends, but you’ll be better off in the long run.
- Ditch the late day coffee run. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with consuming caffeine during your day, unless it’s in the evening. Though people tend to process caffeine at different rates, that cup of coffee stays active in your system for a long time. So if your body processes caffeine on the slower side, you could be in for a sleepless night. In fact, one cup of coffee at 5 p.m. can lower your nightly sleep by one hour and cuts down on its restfulness. Additionally, the half-life (the time before it’s gone from your system) of caffeine is five to seven hours, so skip that cup of joe at least six hours before you plan to hit the hay.
- Power down those devices. The light and mental stimulation from those electronic screens wreak havoc on your ability to power yourself down. So shut off computers, phones or tablets at least one hour before sleep. And turn out the light 30 minutes before you want to be “out like a light.” Your mind needs time to wind down for rest.
- Snuff out that cigarette, and put down that cocktail. Both alcohol and nicotine interfere with your ability to fall asleep effectively, because they’re stimulants. Nicotine especially increases your blood pressure – which is the opposite of what you want your heart to do when you’re trying to get to sleep. Put out that cigarette and put down that boozy beverage at least three to five hours before bed if you’re trying to get your best sleep.
- Create a wind down routine for yourself. Conditioning your body to expect sleep is a great way to hit the hay effectively. Whether it’s taking a bath, drinking warm milk or just getting into your pajamas, set a window of time to start the sleep process in motion, and stick to it every night. Over time, your body will come to recognize these signals and respond to them with sleepiness.
- Keep your bedroom environment “cool, dark and quiet.” This one speaks for itself.
- Minimize napping close to bedtime, too. Napping will drain the sleep pressure that normally builds up during the day and make it more difficult for you to get good, consolidated sleep at night. So if you feel like a nap – make it short – and keep it early in the day. You’ll rest better that night.
Of course, if you still don’t wake up feeling refreshed, you can opt to track your sleep patterns to see if it helps identify any problematic patterns, advises Dr. Drake. There are a lot of free sleep apps available for your smartphone, or you can talk to a doctor if you suspect you may be suffering from a condition like insomnia. If you continue to have sleep problems, he recommends that you consult your doctor or a sleep specialist for a full evaluation.
Just make getting some rest a priority – not an option – and pretty soon you’ll be snoozing your way to success.
For more tips on getting more sleep or to see a Henry Ford sleep specialist, visit the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center.
Dr. Christopher Drake is board-certified in sleep medicine and behavioral sleep medicine.