30 Days to Better Sleep

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. There it is again. The dreaded sound of your alarm clock. Every morning, it disrupts your slumber—that is, on the days you aren’t awakened by a crying baby, construction noise or roaring engines. Regardless of what brings us out of Dreamland, many of us aren’t getting the quantity or the quality of sleep we need. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends seven to nine hours of sleep nightly for adults, but a 2011 poll found that about two-thirds of us say our sleep needs are not being met during the week.  People who are chronically sleep-deprived may see an impact on their metabolism and hormones. In fact, poor sleep habits have been connected with slowed glucose processing and weight gain.

If you’re tired of feeling tired, our 30-day plan is just what the doctor ordered. Take the time to examine your habits, reset your internal clock and get the sleep you need.

ANALYZE YOUR HABITS.
Start your one-month journey to better sleep by taking a close look at your current habits. What time do you go to sleep and wake up? How long does it take you to fall asleep?

DETERMINE YOUR OBSTACLES.
What’s preventing you from getting the sleep you need? “We have a culture that is crazed,” says Marcelle Pick, MSN, author of Are You Tired and Wired? Your Proven 30-Day Program for Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue and Feeling Fantastic Again. “We don’t ever shut down. Our body’s not made to do that.”

ESTABLISH SLEEP AS A PRIORITY.
“You can’t continue to cheat your sleep without consequences—be they psychological or physiological,” says NSF Chairman Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D. Make sure you’re ready to make the necessary changes.

SET A SLEEP SCHEDULE.
Experts say that going to bed and waking up at the same times every day improves the quality of your sleep. It doesn’t have to be to the minute, says Tracey Marks, M.D., a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author of Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified. “It can be a range—between 10 and 10:30 p.m., for example.”

CREATE A BEDTIME ROUTINE.
An hour before bedtime, begin your routine. Start by turning off the TV and computer, then get ready for bed and do a quiet activity like reading or a puzzle—something you find relaxing.

REMOVE ELECTRONICS FROM THE BEDROOM.

“Bedrooms are for sex and sleep,” Pick says. Don’t have a TV or a computer in your bedroom. The ideal temperature for sleep, Marks says, is 68 to 74 degrees. If you can’t adjust the thermostat that low, consider a fan.

EAT DINNER EARLIER.
When you eat dinner too late, your body might not be done digesting the food before bed, which can keep you awake. It can also cause nighttime heartburn, Marks says. Nicotine, a stimulant, can disrupt sleep. Plus, because smokers experience nicotine withdrawal at night, their sleep may be affected. A 2008 study showed that smokers are four times as likely as nonsmokers to say they don’t feel rested after sleep.

SKIP THE LATENIGHT SNACK.
Avoid eating two hours before bed (especially sugary foods) because a spike in blood sugar can affect sleep, Pick says.

KNOW WHEN TO GIVE UP.
“Don’t spend hours in bed trying to fall asleep,” Rosenberg says. “Get out of bed, and go do something else.” But stay away from the television or computer, he adds. Instead, try reading a book or doing a puzzle until you’re tired.

PULL THE SHADES.

The darker your room, the better for sleep.

DO A SOUND CHECK.
If noises outside your room are keeping you up, consider purchasing an ambient noise machine.

PASS ON THE NIGHTCAP.
“Alcoholic beverages might make you sleepy,” Rosenberg says, but alcohol interferes with deep, restful sleep.

CHECK IN.
You’re halfway through the plan, and you’ve already made a number of changes! This is a good time to see how you’re feeling. Regular exercise—ideally 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week—helps improve sleep, Marks says.

BUT NOT TOO CLOSE TO BEDTIME.
A workout boosts energy and may make it hard to go to sleep. Plus, your body temperature increases during exercise, and the body needs time to cool. Experts suggest working out more than two hours before bedtime.

KICK THE CAFFEINE.
To optimize your sleep, avoid caffeine in the evenings. But everyone’s body is different, Marks notes, so to be on the safe side, consider avoiding caffeine after noon.

GET COMFORTABLE.
That might mean investing in a new mattress, better pillows or softer bedding.

CHECK IN.
OK, just 10 more days to go. Are you sleeping at least seven hours a night? Are you waking up rested?

JUST SAY NO.
If you find you still aren’t getting enough sleep, it might be time to say no to optional responsibilities at work and at home.

SIMPLIFY.
Clearing physical clutter can be a good way to ease mental clutter and help you relax.

NAB A NAP.
“Power naps under 20 minutes can be wonderful,” Marks says. Just don’t nap too long or too close to bedtime.

TURN OFF ALL ELECTRONICS.
“Recent studies have shown the impact of chronic light on decreasing melatonin production,” Marks says. “We need melatonin, which is the sleep hormone in our brain. When you have less of it, that impairs sleep.” Stop watching TV, using your computer and playing on your phone for as long as possible before bed. Stay hydrated, of course, but try to limit how much water you drink before bed. A trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night can disrupt sleep.

KICK FIDO OUT.
Your dog might be snuggly, but that doesn’t mean it’s helping you rest.

STRESS LESS.
Stress is a known obstacle to good sleep. Find a coping mechanism that works for you, such as yoga, deep breathing exercises or meditation.

GET ENOUGH DAYLIGHT.
While it’s important to avoid lights at night, it’s also important to get some sunlight during the day (or use a light therapy box to simulate the light if you need to) to help regulate your body’s melatonin and sleep-wake cycle.

ENJOY YOUR DOWNTIME.

“If your day is too intense and compact, even if you get to your evening and you’re ready to collapse, your mind might still be racing,” Marks says. At some point during the day, try to take a 15- to 30-minute break to listen to music, meditate or simply enjoy some quiet time.

FINAL CHECK.
Have you made progress to more and better sleep? If you’ve tried our tips for better sleep and are still tired during the day (or struggle to fall asleep at night), talk to your doctor. “You don’t have to put up with sleep problems,” Rosenberg adds. “For the vast majority of people, there are answers for sleep problems.”

Could It Be Sleep Apnea?
If you have healthy lifestyle habits and are getting plenty of sleep but still wake up feeling tired, there might be something else at work. Feeling tired and sleep deprived during the day isn’t normal, says Gregory Mauldin, M.D., medical director of Gwinnett Medical Center’s Center for Sleep Disorders. If you feel chronically tired, you may have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. When you take shallow breaths or briefly stop breathing during sleep, it can take you out of deep sleep and into a lighter sleep. One sign of sleep apnea is snoring.

“Deep sleep is restorative sleep,” Dr. Mauldin says. So, if you’re missing out on this quality sleep, it’s no wonder you might be tired during the day. Left untreated, the National Institutes of Health reports, sleep apnea can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. If you think you might have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor.

Don’t Go Through Another Sleepless Night
Learn more about sleep studies offered at Gwinnett Medical Center. Visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/sleep or call 678-312-3695. For those who qualify, GMC's Center For Sleep Disorders offers a take home sleep study that can be performed in the comfort of your home.

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