By Dr. Alan Koenigsberg
We have been told since we were children that getting a good night’s sleep is important. It’s probably been repeated so often that it is often ignored, or seems like background noise. And yet…research has shown just how important getting regular good sleep is to all of us.
As we get older, it’s even more important, given that sleep doesn’t come as easily when we are older. So here are some fundamental guidelines to improving the likelihood of getting better sleep.
1. Have a good bed. Most of us look for bargains when bed shopping, thinking that most beds are more or less alike. While that may be somewhat true, please think about the fact that we will spend fully one third of our lives on our beds, and investing in quality mattresses and boxsprings can be worthwhile.
2. Get regular exercise. This may be weight training, walking or some other form of movement. We have over 600 muscles, and our bodies are meant to move. Lack of regular exercise may make sleeping difficult.
3. A cool bedroom works best for most people.
4. A dark bedroom is important. Most people have digital alarm clocks, cellphones, computers and other miscellaneous electronic gadgets that have little lights that stay on all night. All though they seem innocuous, recent research has shown that those lights disrupt deep REM sleep. Do whatever you can to remove those tiny light sources.
5. Put away all electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Various spectra of radiation may inhibit melatonin release and prevent falling asleep.
6. Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Although it may help some with falling asleep, a few hours later, it can cause awakenings, and make it difficult to fall back asleep.
7. Avoid stimulants before bedtime. For some older people, the caffeine in coffee may prevent falling asleep.
8. A warm bath and light exercise before bedtime may help promote sleep.
9. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each night may help with sleeping, even on the weekends.
10. Avoid watching disturbing or intense movies or videos before bedtime. If the news is disturbing or too stimulating before bedtime, consider a different method of getting the news.
11. Ensure you are getting enough sleep. Far too many people go to sleep too late, get up too early and are chronically sleepy. Even mild sleep deprivation can slow one’s reflexes, and while most people can muddle through the day when sleep deprived, their cognitive skills are diminished, and reaction times to novel stimuli are delayed. When driving, this can cause a disastrous problem.
12. Naps can be helpful, so enjoy them, but be careful about naps that last too long. They can prevent getting a good night’s sleep.
13. Get adequate daylight to promote healthy circadian rhythms.
14. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
15. Consider some form of white noise. A fan or a white noise machine can facilitate excellent sleep.
16. Lastly, if you continue to have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, or feel tired and sleepy, consider discussing this with your internist or family physician, and also undergo a formal sleep study. Various general medical illnesses, medications or sleep apnea can be recognized and treated.
A good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold.
Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas.