How often do you get a good, sound night of sleep? If you’re having problems falling asleep, staying asleep or frequently feel tired during the day, pinpointing the causes and building a strategy to help you get the sleep you need can have a positive impact on many different, important aspects of your health and wellbeing. But where should you start?
Many people don’t realize they have a sleep issue. In fact, it’s another health concern that brings them into their doctor’s office. For older people, it may be a problem with memory, which is negatively affected by lack of sleep. For others it could be a concern about a lower energy level than they used to have or an increase in feelings of depression or anxiety.
Not getting enough sleep can have a significant impact on your health. Studies have linked lack of sleep with a range of health problems including weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, suppressed immune system, and lower life expectancy.
How to create your personalized sleep strategy
If you’re having sleep problems, see your primary care physician who can examine you and schedule blood tests or other diagnostic tests if needed to uncover underlying health issues that could be contributing to your sleep issues. Depending on the severity of your problem, your doctor may recommend that you see a sleep specialist and undergo a sleep study to determine the cause of your problem.
There are also lifestyle and self-help steps you can build into your strategy to improve your sleep.
- Think about how much sleep you actually need. Although you may think everyone needs eight hours a night, the amount of sleep people need to be well rested and healthy can vary from person to person. If you’re concerned because you’re only getting six hours a night but you don’t feel tired or low energy during the day, then six hours is probably the appropriate amount of sleep for you.
- Focus on relaxation rather than sleep. If you have insomnia, you know that the harder you try to make yourself fall asleep, the less likely you are to succeed. It may be a better approach to focus on trying to relax rather than the end goal of falling asleep. About an hour before bed, lower the lights, turn off all electronics, and try reading or listening to calming music. Meditating, breathing exercises or other naturopathic approaches may also be helpful.
- Don’t try to catch up on lost sleep. It’s better to develop a sleep routine, going to bed and getting up the same time every day, rather than planning to sleep late on weekends or go to bed early to make up your sleep deficit.
- Eat this, not that. You know that a pre-bedtime espresso is a bad idea, but there are other foods that can affect your sleep in positive and negative ways. Alcohol may make you drowsy, but studies have found that it disrupts REM sleep, the deepest level of sleep. In contrast, a light pre-bedtime snack of easy-to-digest carbohydrates and protein that’s rich in tryptophan like whole grain bread and peanut butter can help you feel sleepier.
Good sleep is one of the keys to a healthier life, so make it one of your health priorities. If you want help building a personalized sleep strategy or would like to connect with an experienced sleep specialist, a personal health advisor can be a good resource.