How to get a good night’s sleep

How you feel the next day often depends on whether you had a good sleep the night before. There are many reasons why people don’t sleep well, and many good reasons why they should get a good sleep.

Let’s start with why we should get a good sleep

  • Generally speaking we all need about 8 hours sleep a night. But 40% of Americans may only get about 5 hours sleep or less.  Others get poor quality sleep.  If you are a person who is not convinced that you need 8 hours sleep please read on.

Repercussions of poor quality of limited hours of sleep

Because we need a certain amount of sleep to have an adequate reaction time and to make good decisions if we don’t get good quality sleep the following can happen:

  • Increased risk for accidents of all kinds. Many huge disasters have been attributed to people in positions of responsibility not getting enough sleep.  Doctors in training who typically don’t get enough sleep tend to make more mistakes in diagnosis and treatment.
  • People may feel grumpy and argumentative.
  • Their memory is not good.
  • Their weight goes up because they tend to eat more when awake.
  • Their sex drive and sexual satisfaction is lowered.
  • There is an inability to think clearly.
  • There is an increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardio-vascular conditions Alzheimers, and the Immune System is compromised (45%) when our Cortisol levels rise.
  • With sleep apnoea the glymphatic system in the brain which removes waste products during deep sleep is compromised. This can lead to reduced cognitive function.
  • Concentration is reduced, e.g., for book reading or other activities.
  • Cancer incidence is higher.
  • Constipation may be a worry.
  • Brain shrinkage certainly would be a worry!

How to turn this around

  • Maybe you say you are just not a good sleeper, or a light sleeper or a poor sleeper. Well, there could be some good reasons for this and they are not the obvious ones.
  • According to research to maintain a natural body rhythm we need to be exposed to sunlight in the daytime which synchronises our master body clock. So 10-15 minutes of sunlight in the morning, and 30-60 minutes in the middle of the day helps with the body clock, and thus, our quality of sleep. This may be difficult for office workers or shift workers, but is worth trying to change your routine to accommodate some sun.
  • If you think you have sleep apnoea, a condition where the airways are partially blocked off leading to reduced oxygen to the brain while “sleeping” then you need to get a correct diagnosis and treatment for this.

More things that interfere with sleep – stress

  • Sleep deprived people may turn to caffeine (in some form or another) to help themselves be more alert. However, caffeine and alcohol reinforce the negative effects of the stress response in the body.  This will undermine performance at tasks and interferes with the work of the Immune System, making the body more susceptible to inflammation and disease.  The stress response in the body is quite sensitive to our body clocks, and is made worse by taking in alcohol and caffeine.

What positive things you can do to improve your sleep?

  • Have a hot bath or shower 1-2 hours before retiring.
  • Keep the temperature of your bedroom at about 70 degrees F.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible, and if necessary wear an eye mask.
  • Have a routine: use the bathroom before retiring, and cut down on fluids 1-2 hours before bed. Limit all sources of caffeine, reduce alcohol, and television watching before bedtime. Don’t take work to bed, bed is for sleeping or sex only.
  • If it helps, have a small high protein snack and a small piece of fruit several hours before bed-time and avoid spicy food. Avoid eating right on bed time as this may give you indigestion.
  • When exercising, it is best in the morning as if you exercise too near your sleep time your body may be revved up and you may not feel sleepy.
  • Have separate rooms for snorers. NB snorers may have breathing problems like sleep apnoea and need checking out by their doctor.
  • There are some good stress management/relaxation/meditation CDs around and you may like to investigate these to listen to before retiring.
  • If a woman is peri menopausal or menopausal this can cause some sleep disruption, so a visit to the doctor may be helpful.
  • Teenagers are often the most sleep deprived, and have irregular sleeping patterns, finding it hard to get up in the morning like everyone else. Putting a night light in their bedroom that turns on automatically at 4 a.m. may help with this problem.  The light shouldn’t interfere with their sleep and helps the body clock adjust to a more normal routine.
  • Mothers with small babies are usually sleep deprived, and need to get a nap whenever they can when the baby is napping.
  • If you live in a noisy environment then remember you have some options like complaining about a neighbour’s constant noise, keeping a window closed, getting earplugs or even moving house as a desperate last resort!