In today’s world, people are under increasing stress, greater pressures, information overload, anxiety, and sleeplessness. As a nurse, I see the increase in use of caffeine and sugary drinks to keep awake, and sleeping pills to help shut down at night.
We all know that if you don’t get adequate sleep your body can’t function at optimal levels, but what CAN we do to get better sleep without masking the issue with short term fixes?
Let’s start by focusing on our senses…
Did you know that smell may be the most influential sense? You can literally “sniff” your way to a better sleep!
Aromatherapy has gained popularity with the widespread use of essential oils to assist in a variety of ailments, insomnia being one of them. Diffusers & oils can be found at our local Bed, Bath & Beyond or Sprouts stores.
For a more personal touch, I recommend local distributors of do-TERRA or Young Living Essential Oils. They are knowledgeable and passionate in the uses of their products. Here are a sample of scents and their therapeutic effects on sleep:
Lavender: can be used to help curb anxiety, depression & rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the smell of lavender can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, putting you in a more relaxed state. Spritz on your pillow at night prior to bed or diffuse.
Orange: reduces anxiety while promoting a sense of well-being and calmness.
Peppermint: reduces cortisol levels (stress hormone) which affects weight loss, and reduces fatigue. It can also reduce chocolate cravings.
Studies show how exposure to different scents can protect long-term health and relieve stress, insomnia, and improve mood.
Prior to hitting the hay, what you eat or drink can dramatically affect your sleep. Most of use can relate to the post-Thanksgiving nap after gorging from dinner. This occurs partly because of the amino acid Tryptophan found in turkey, eggs, chicken, fish & nuts. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain (mashed potatoes, bread, pecan pie…) compounding your sleepiness.
It’s not a bad side effect if you want to sleep, but for those looking to lose weight, I wouldn’t recommend this on a daily basis!
On the other hand, spicy, fatty, or fried foods may upset the digestive tract which disturbs your sleep. Caffeine, sinus medications, and chocolate are can keep you wide awake well beyond bedtime. Decrease usage by mid-afternoon if possible. Some find alcohol as a relaxation aid, although you may find your quality of sleep is negatively affected.
Eating a lighter meal of lean protein before bedtime, or not eating at all, is a better choice. Natural insomnia aides such as Chamomile (anti-inflammatory, treats anxiety, insomnia & aids digestion), Melatonin (helps regulate sleep), & Lavender (fights insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and depression) are all good alternatives to the rising prescription medication epidemic.
Maxx Synergy (full disclosure: my company) offers a product known as “Lights Off,” and when taken an hour before bedtime, helps calm, de-stress, and relax your core to help you get the deep and restorative sleep you need to function at your best. With 15 ingredients to allow your body to heal and detox, you’ll awaken with increased vitality but no groggy or sluggish feeling.
For those who want the instant gratification of something to help them get to sleep and stay asleep with long term positive health benefits, “Lights Off” is a great alternative. Other options for natural sleep aides can be found at the Frisco Family Health Market.
A great night’s sleep can also depend on the visual conditions in your bedroom environment.
Our body detects when the sun starts going down and the light in our environment diminishes. Melatonin levels begin to rise and our temperature drops. The result is less alertness and increased sleepiness.
Light and darkness affect the quality of our sleep. Even artificial light like TVs, tablets, smart phones, and porch lights matter.
How many of us stare into our smart phones just before trying to get to sleep? How about breaking open a physical book to “wind down” instead, and avoid electronics at least 15-30 minutes prior to bedtime.
Cover small lights, obtain light filtering window covers, and use eye masks to help diminish ambient light. For darkening shades or help blocking light form windows visit Gotcha Covered here in Frisco. Avoid turning on bright overhead lights when rising to use the restroom in the night, and use a smaller night light in the bathroom itself instead.
Reducing light exposure will help you get that 7-9 hours of sleep that’s recommended.
How well you sleep at night can also be affected by how you feel in your environment. The temperature recommended for best sleep is around 65 degrees. At night, your temperature tends to drop, being the lowest approximately 5am. If the room is too warm, this can inhibit your body’s drop and make for a restless night.
Each person is different, so experiment with what works best for you. Our own thermoregulation of temperature can cause sweating or shivering which will disturb sleep.
Your mattress, pillows, pajamas, and sheets can also affect sleep. It’s recommended to change out your mattress about every 7 years. I know this seems a bit much, but for some it’s a must. We have numerous places in town where you can “try before you buy” that also have a money back guarantee. Mattress Firm North Frisco offers this option plus payment plans.
I cannot say enough about pillows because keeping your spine in alignment is the key. Consider replacing them when they feel lumpy or flat. In fact, I am still searching for my perfect pillow.
Proper sheets and pajamas can make sleeping a dream. Typically, a breathable cotton fabric is great so you don’t overheat. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 91% of Americans change their sheets at least every other week. Clean, fresh smelling sheets can make all the difference for a restful night. For those of you with pets (especially, the hairy ones) try Sticky Sheets, they are a life saver!
When you work the night shift and have the lawn guys that come at 9am on Tuesday, sound is a big issue. Roadwork, dogs barking, alarms, a TV blaring from the other room, doors shutting… You name it, I’ve dealt with it.
While you sleep, your brain continues to process sound at a basic level. Sound can affect the different stages of sleep you are in without you even being aware of it. The types of sounds also make a difference. That’s why you may not wake to the routine noise of a spouse’s snores, but instantly arise when the baby cries across the house. People are more likely to wake when a sound is relevant or emotionally charged.
Going to sleep with the TV on can take a toll on your quality of sleep. The problem is that the sounds from the TV range in volume and tone disrupting your sleep subconsciously. White noise or a sound machine would be better. There are apps for your smartphone that put white noise right at your fingertips. Personally, we sleep with a fan going. The white noise plus circulating air help us take the plunge into deep slumber.
Take time to set your phone on “Do Not Disturb” so you don’t hear every ding and notification. Also, close the bedroom door and let others know when you plan to sleep.
Arrange yard work to an alternate day, place a sign on your front door, and put the yapping dogs in their space with blinds closed. Ear plugs are also a great option. I use my shooting range plugs, specially molded ear plugs, for comfort.
So, Stop Slapping the Snooze
Many of the things involving your senses are intentional steps that can be taken to increase your quality of sleep. We’ve all met people who say they slept 12 hours but still arose exhausted. Any of the things related to the senses could be the culprit, and most likely several of them.
Eliminating just one negative and replacing it with a positive can lead to a more comfortable, healthier sleep pattern over time. Your sleep won’t fix itself and prescription sleep medication need not be the only option.
It amazes me that when I was obese, I failed to consider nutrition, my own boundaries, or what my responsibilities were to getting better sleep. That special quick fix pill wasn’t out there. Research & do your own due diligence when it comes to your health and well being.
Drop by and like my business page to ask any questions about sleep and connect!
This article explains why insomnia may develop when alcohol is abused, and treatments that help you ease the symptoms of insomnia.