The National Sleep Foundation annually celebrates the sweetness and importance of slumber with Sleep Awareness Week ©, which was March 6-13 this year, and though you may have missed it, it’s not too late to improve your sleep habits and reap the numerous benefits. Or, suffer the consequences.
Cheating yourself out of necessary sleep, in other words, doing other things when you should be snoring is something I consider a self-hate crime. Such crimes against yourself can easily be avoided with simple actions like turning off the TV, closing your laptop, turning out the lights, putting your phone to bed for the night, closing the book, closing your eyes and my favorite, stop thinking. It’s not as easy as it sounds when you have deadlines to meet, laundry to fold and Netflix to watch.
However, for some, it’s really not that easy. The sad and puff-eyed fact is if you suffer from insomnia, a disorder that keeps your wheels spinning in spite of your deep desire to dream, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, you are part of the 30 to 35 percent of the adults who don’t sleep well. More common in groups such as older adults, women, insomnia often accompanies stress and certain medical and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
You may be familiar with one of the two types of insomnia depending upon the regularity and duration. Short-term insomnia can last for up to three months and affects 15 to 20 percent of the weary population. I’m grateful not to be part of the 10 percent with chronic insomnia, which can occur at least three times a week and last for longer periods of time.
While it’s tempting to want to self-medicate, it’s never a good idea for obvious reasons. Having a drink to get to sleep can lead to temporary dependence on alcohol or alcoholism. Rather than attempting to solve one problem by introducing another, it’s possible to change your habits, create new healthy rituals and win the battle of sleepless nights. It’s called sleep hygiene and can be accomplished in a variety of different ways, depending upon what appeals to you.
Assuming anxiety is not the culprit, which means there are other factors to consider making counseling a good place to start, here are some tricks that have worked for me:
- Avoid napping during the day. It sounds simple, but if you’re sleeping during the day, you may have created a problem very easily fixed. If you’re tired, you’re likely not doing a couple of different things. One is getting enough exercise, fresh air or sunlight during the day. Two is eating enough protein. Three is drinking enough water to stay hydrated. Any one of these things can inspire the midday doldrums that make napping seem so attractive, even necessary at times. The combination of a depleted, deprived, dehydrated body is an absolute recipe for mental and physical shut-down.
- Take exhilarating breaks during the day from whatever you’re doing---unless you’re an aerobics instructor, in which case, you probably need rest. This will help in two ways. One will be to help you avoid the need for a nap. The other is to help you look forward to sleeping at night. It’s somewhat obvious that what you do during the day is going to make the difference in how you’re spending your nights: Either pacing the floors out of a need for stimulation or resting your body and mind after a productive, active day. If you sit all day, make sure you get up every so often to stretch, talk to people, sing, scream, take a walk or a run. The idea is to get your blood circulating.
- Don’t eat after 8 p.m. If you’re ever in a position that you have to stay up later than you want to, be sure to eat and drink plenty of water to keep yourself awake. And do just the opposite to let your body know that it’s time to rest from all activity, including digestion.
- Break from electronics at least 20 minutes before you actually attempt to fall asleep. It’s typical to think you might get sleepy from watching TV or looking at Facebook. But just the opposite is true if you suffer from insomnia, and even if you don’t. The Sleep Foundation says that research has shown that even our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to stimulate the brain enough to promote wakefulness. WebMD agrees by saying, “power down for better sleep.”