The American Sleep Disorder Association estimates that more than 50 million people in the U.S. have trouble just getting a good night’s sleep. Those that fall into this category know all too well the frustration that comes from tossing and turning in bed. Some sleep disorders indicate a medical problem that needs addressing but, often, it’s just a matter of making some changes and developing good sleep habits.
What is a Sleep Disorder?
Sleep disorders are anything that changes the way one sleeps. A good night’s sleep isn’t just about being rested. Sleep deprivation is a medical problem because this is the time the body physically restores itself, heals tissue and removes toxins. As a person sleeps, breathing and heart rate slows down and the body temperature drops. This allows for the focus to shift towards restoration. Statistically speaking:
- Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, affecting about 30 percent of the adult population.
- An estimated 25 million adults in this country suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea leads to abnormal breathing patterns during sleep.
- Restless leg syndrome, or Willis-Ekborn disease, is a sleep movement disorder that presents with an uncomfortable feeling in the legs causing the sufferer to keep moving them.
Not all sleep problems relate directly to medical conditions, though. For some, the problem is with poor sleep habits.
Tips for Better Sleep
Over the years, some develop bad habits that interfere with the natural process of falling asleep. They don’t have a medical condition like the Willis-Ekborn disease to blame. Instead, they have set up an environment that prevents them from falling or staying asleep. A few changes are all you need to learn to get to sleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.
Set a Schedule and Stick to It
Understanding how to get better sleep starts with setting a schedule. Sleep is a habitual process that requires consistency. Get used to going to bed at a certain time every night and waking up at the same time each day. Once you set a schedule, stick to it whether it’s a workday or not. Schedule regulates the body’s time clock and soon sleep will come naturally at just the right time.
Create Rituals That Promote Sleep
Most parents understand the benefit of a set bedtime routine. Kids typically have a nighttime ritual that lets them know it is time for bed such as a bath, snack and bedtime story. The benefit of that practice continues as those kids become adults. Creating rituals such as watching TV, taking a shower and having a cup of hot tea let the brain know that sleep comes next.
Eliminate the Distractions
It doesn’t take much to keep the brain on the high alert and away from sleep. Something as seemingly harmless as the blue glow of a smartphone sitting on the nightstand is enough. Examine the bedroom and look for potential distractions then find solutions. Tuck the smartphone into the drawer instead of leaving it on the stand, for example. Turn off all electronics and cover any blue light that can’t be hidden. This should include the clock, which can be a distraction someone struggling to fall asleep.
Improve the Environment
Do all the obvious things to make the bedroom a place designed for sleep like lowering the blinds and turning the temperature down so it’s cool. Certain wall colors can help promote sleep like a nice blue or relaxing warm yellow. Choose a paint with a matte finish to avoid the glow that comes with high gloss.
Keep it quiet but consider a white noise machine, especially if tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is part of the problem. A soft soothing noise helps break up the silence just enough to let the mind relax without being distracting.
Deal With Pain
Even mild pain is enough to interfere with the regenerative sleep process. Thirty-one million people suffer from low-back pain and many will struggle to get comfortable at night. A quick fix is to put a pillow between the legs to align the hips.
Pay special attention to neck positioning, too. Look for a properly sized pillow, one that supports the natural posture of the neck. For those who sleep on their sides, the nose should be aligned with the rest of the body.
For other kinds of acute or chronic pain such as joint aches or migraines, talk to a doctor about ways to manage the problem to prevent it from interfering with sleep.
Nix the Naps
Daytime sleepiness is a side effect of sleep problems. It’s important to avoid taking naps during the day and in the evening after dinner. If you do need a power nap, keep it under 20 minutes and take it early in the day.
Exercise is nature’s stress reducer and sleep promotor. A 2013 study conducted by the National Sleep Foundations determined that people who exercised regularly were better sleepers. Even something less strenuous like a 10-minute walk each day was beneficial. Avoid doing it too close to bedtime, though, especially with vigorous exercise. Get the workout in and shower done a few hours before hitting the sheets.
No Heavy Snacks
The goal is to avoid digesting food while you try to fall asleep. If late snacking is a necessity, keep it light. Stay away from protein that takes longer to digest. A good sleep can help with weight management, too.
Learning how to improve sleep habits is easy to do and just might be the key to getting a proper night’s sleep. The body needs this time to heal, so break the bad habits and create ones that promote good sleep.