Sleep is one of the yummiest things in life. Having a really good night’s sleep and waking refreshed is such a pleasure. I don’t know about you, but sleeping well is episodic for me. I’ll go for a stretch where I can sleep through the night and then I won’t sleep much at all for months.
Until the middle of the last century, it was thought that sleep was a passive, dormant part of our daily routine and not an important part of our health. Now we know that our brains are very active during sleep and the quality of our sleep affects our ability to function during the day. A good night’s sleep plays a big part in our physical and mental health, as well as memory mapping.
Nearly a quarter of adults are unhappy with their sleep patterns, and about 10% meet the criteria for having the diagnosis of insomnia — putting them at a greater risk for depression, hypertension, and diabetes.
So it is worth your time to figure out why you’re not sleeping and to do something about it.
There are many reasons people don’t sleep well, from breathing problems due to apnea or allergies to having the lights on. So I was thinking that maybe I could share some tips on how to help y’all get a decent rest.
The most obvious reason people can’t sleep is that there is another animal in the bed — dog, cat, or human — that thrashes or snores. My cat, Todd, has a nose whistle that sometimes turns into more of a weed-whacker sound that I don’t find the least bit charming. That and his 5am (even on weekends!) reminder of what a slacker I am when it comes to feeding kitties makes me wonder why he gets to live here.
I keep ear plugs next to my bed lest Todd’s or my boyfriend’s sinuses act up. Neither is nearly as bad as my ex-husband was. That guy shook the house when he snored. He also was a thrasher. One time he had a cast on his arm and thrashed in the night and almost broke my nose. There were many issues with that relationship and I think the fact that I didn’t get enough sleep didn’t help any. So if you have a bed fellow who mimics the sounds of large machinery at night, you can either make him or her sleep in the basement, or suggest sleeping on his or her side. There is also a pillow you might want to try. It’s actually approved by the FDA (who knew they approved pillows?) and is shaped to tilt your head and open your airways. It’s called a SonaPillow and heck, for around $70 might be worth a try. Other than that, or divorce, ear plugs have worked for me for the snoring. For the thrashing, I have no advice other than to have separate beds.
If you’re always thinking you may have noticed that getting to sleep is hard for you because you end up having an argument in your head with your boss or significant other just as you’re head is hitting the pillow. If you find yourself fretful as you’re trying to go to sleep, get up and walk to another room. Leave the lights off. Don’t start another activity, just leave the bed. Then when you go back to bed you’ll probably fall asleep. This is a strategy used successfully in several sleep studies and has a fancy-pants name, “stimulus control.” This technique will also prevent you from associating your bed with anxiety. You may want to do some problem solving earlier in the evening to avoid the thought pileup right as you go to bed. If you write down your pressing issues along with a few solutions for each, it’ll help ease your mind at bed time.
Oh the joys of womanhood
Hormonal changes either from menstruation or menopause can screw up your sleep patterns big time. A hot bath before bed can help, or meditation to sooth and calm you. I am not a fan of sleeping pills so I’m not going to recommend them. The side effects aren’t worth it to my mind. That said, if cramps are keeping you up or nothing is working for you, do what you’ve gotta do sister.
I’m a big fan of melatonin which is a natural sleep aid and has worked for me. If you try melatonin, don’t take pills because the melatonin is mostly destroyed by the acid in your stomach. Use a spray either under your tongue or directly in your mouth. Hold it there for about a minute so it can be absorbed.
If you have night sweats, air conditioning and moisture-wicking jammies might help. If you’re perimenopausal, exercising 20-30 minutes daily and not drinking caffeine after noon or having a martini close to bed time will help your sleep patterns. A nightcap before bed may help you fall asleep, but is likely to wake you in the wee hours because of a sort of rebound effect that it has.
Sidebar: Also, upping your soy intake and eliminating dairy can help. In several studies of perimenopausal woman in Japan showed this to help reduce hot flashes. I don’t eat dairy and whereas I don’t consume alot of soy, I’ve never had a hot flash. I get warm, but never sweaty. Might be something to it.
Even a small amount of light through your eyelids when your eyes are closed is registered by your retina. Light from street lamps, alarm clocks, and cell phones or other devices could be keeping you awake. Light at night sends a signal to your brain that interferes with your internal clock and makes you feel awake.
So if you have a nightlight on, turn it off. If your alarm clock has a lit display that’s always on, turn it to the wall. If you keep a light on in the hallway, shut the door. I have a big street lamp outside my bedroom window and I installed black-out curtains so I could sleep.
In the summer, I leave all the windows open for the breeze so I wear eyeshades to block out the streetlamp. They aren’t very expensive and they’re pretty comfortable.
All of the above will help your brain realize that it is indeed night time and sleeping is what should be on the agenda.
This is totally gross, but you could be sharing your bed with anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million dust mites, according to Alan Goldsobel, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in San Jose, CA. Apparently the residue they leave behind (yuck) can trigger mild to very severe allergies. We all know that sleeping is hard when sneezing or suffering from a headache.
Washing all of your bedding in hot water and drying on high heat will help rid your linens of the mites and help your schnoz. Vacuuming and dusting regularly will help as well. There are also mattress covers that are supposed to block the mites. The most effective way to cut down on dust mites according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology is to increase your bedrooms air flow by cracking open the windows and doors. I find that really hard to believe — like what? the mites don’t like fresh air so they just die? But hey, I’m not a scientist.