by Marlo Thomas: I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t get rattled easily — I get my work done, I pace myself, I’m cool under pressure.
But that’s during the workday. Once I get in bed, all bets are off. My mind begins to tick, and then I start making lists — and the next thing you know, I’m the Queen of Eyes Wide Open. “Toss” and “Turn” are my middle names.
So, I’ve recently begun researching what’s behind those sleepless nights, and I’ve been amazed at what I’ve read. Did you know that insomnia affects women nearly twice as much as men– but women are more likely than men to report their insomnia to their doctor? Were you aware that the optimal temperature for deep sleep is around 68 degrees — which is why we keep flopping around at night when it’s too warm? And did you know that if you fall asleep in five minutes or less, chances are you are sleep-deprived? Ideally, it should take you ten to fifteen minutes to drift off at night.
We’ve learned a lot about sleep in recent years, but in our fast-paced, high-stress, 24/7 world, fewer and fewer of us are getting enough of it. And despite the fact that we’ve all heard the experts say that we need between seven and nine hours a night, nearly half of American adults do not get enough sleep. But the fact is that sleeping is just as vital to our health and well-being as diet and exercise. It affects our mood, our ability to learn and our memory function. And depriving ourselves of proper sleep can have serious health consequences.
So, in honor of National Sleep Comfort Month, we’ve put together a list of tips from the National Sleep Foundation to help you prepare for and get the most out of your sleeping hours.
Maintain a Consistent Bedtime and Wake Time
Our sleep cycles are regulated by the “circadian clock” in our brains. By maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time — even on weekends when you’re tempted to “sleep in” — you will help strengthen the circadian function and help make your sleep patterns more consistent.
Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Transitional activities like soaking in a hot bath, reading or listening to music can help your mind transition from daytime activities into a more relaxed state, which will help you fall into a deeper sleep. Avoid bright light and activities that cause excitement or stress directly before going to bed, and if you take that hot bath, be sure you cool off and are not over-heated before getting into bed.
Dark, Quiet and Cool
These three factors are your best bet for creating an optimal sleeping environment. Make sure your bedding and clothing are comfortable, and if you have trouble achieving any of these conditions, consider blackout curtains, ear plugs, eye shades, humidifiers, “white noise” or fans.
Invest in a Good Mattress and Pillows
Be sure that your mattress is supportive and comfortable. The average lifespan of a mattress is 9-10 years, so be aware when your mattress may have outlived its lifespan. Also invest in comfortable pillows and bedding, and be sure to create an environment in the bedroom that is inviting and conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Sleep and Sex Only, Please
By using your bedroom only for sleep and sex you will strengthen your mental association between bed and sleep. Remove all distracting or stress-inducing elements, such as televisions, computers and work-related things out of the bedroom to create a more relaxing environment. If you find yourself regularly checking your digital clock throughout the night, just set the alarm and turn the face away from you.
Finish Eating At Least 2-3 Hours Before Bedtime
Eating directly before going to bed — especially if spicy foods are involved — may cause difficulty falling asleep and discomfort throughout the night. Similarly, drinking too much may result in several awakenings for trips to the bathroom. That said, some people find a single serving of milk or non-caffienated tea to be a soothing part of the bedtime routine.
Complete All Exercise At Least 3 Hours Before Bedtime
Regular exercise can make falling asleep easier and contributes to a deeper and better sleep. However, it can take up to six hours for your body temperature to drop after strenuous exercise, and a cooler body temperature makes falling asleep much easier. So be sure to complete your exercising or any strenuous activity at least three hours before bedtime for the best results.
Avoid Caffeine For 6-8 Hours Before Bed
Caffeine is a stimulant that remains in your system from 3-5 hours, though it can affect some people for up to 12 hours. Even if you can’t feel the effects, consuming caffeine late in the day may be affecting your sleep cycle more than you realize. If you like a warm drink at night, try caffeine-free tea.
Avoid Nicotine Before Bed
Nicotine is a stimulant, and can contribute to sleeplessness. If you smoke, your body may experience withdrawal symptoms throughout the night, and you may also experience difficulty waking in the morning. It’s one more reason to quit, and remember to never smoke in bed or when you are feeling sleepy.
Avoid Alcohol Before Bedtime
Though many people think of it as a sedative, alcohol actually has a disruptive effect on your sleeping cycle and can cause multiple awakenings during the night. Ultimately, it leads to a less restful sleep.
Don’t Just Toss and Turn
Most experts agree that if you are having trouble falling asleep, it is best to get out of bed, go to another room and engage in a relaxing activity such as ready or listening to music. Once you begin to feel sleepy again, return to bed.
Visit Your Doctor
If you are experiencing sleep problems, and none of the previous tips seem to help, consult your doctor to see if there may be other underlying problems. Keeping a sleep diary noting your sleep activities and the issues you are experiencing will help make your consultation with your doctor more productive.
Award-winning actress, author and activist