If you're feeling a bit irritable lately, it could be that you're lacking in the area of sleep. Even in our golden years, thought by most to be a time of enjoying life to its fullest, a good nights sleep can still be difficult to come by. At every stage in life we are presented with stressful challenges that cause the idea of quality sleep to be sometimes elusive.
November is National Sleep Comfort Month. Although we may not be able to do away with all of the factors that interfere with our sleep, we can work to form habits that encourage improvements. Our environment is also an important piece of this puzzle. If quality sleep sometimes eludes you take a look at these 10 strategies adapted from the Mayo Clinic. Try a strategy you're not currently practicing, and for best results give it at least 2 weeks. If it doesn't seem to work for you don't give up, try something else.
1. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, even on the weekends. A schedule reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle and helps you fall asleep more easily.
2. Avoid eating or drinking large amounts before bedtime. Eat a light dinner and finish eating all together 2-3 hours before bed. If you're prone to heartburn avoid spicy or fatty foods known to induce heartburn flare-up. Also, limit how much you drink before bed as too much liquid will result in waking up repeatedly for visits to the bathroom.
3. Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening. These are stimulants that can keep you awake. Smokers often experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and smoking in bed is very dangerous. Avoid caffeine for eight hours before your planned bedtime. Your body doesn't store caffeine, but it takes many hours to eliminate the stimulant and its effects. Although alcohol is believed to be a sedative, it actually disrupts sleep patterns.
4. Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, will help you fall asleep faster and provide a more restful sleep. However, be aware that for some exercising right before going to bed makes getting to sleep difficult.
5. Make your sleeping environment cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. To create an environment that's ideal for sleeping adjust the lighting, temperature, humidity and noise level to your preferences. You may also consider blackout curtains, eye covers, earplugs, extra blankets, a fan or white-noise generator and/or a humidifier.
6. Limit napping. Daytime naps often steal hours from nighttime sleep. Limit daytime sleep to about a half-hour, and make it during mid-afternoon.
7. Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow. Features of a good bed are subjective and differ for each person, but make sure your bed is comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there's enough room for two. Children and pets are often disruptive, so you may need to set limits on how often they sleep in bed with you.
8. Start a relaxing bedtime routine. Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities done with lowered lights can help ease the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.
9. Go to bed when you're tired and turn out the lights. If you don't fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something else. Go back to bed when you're tired. Don't agonize over falling asleep as stress will only escalate the issue.
10. Use sleeping pills only as a last resort. Check with your doctor before taking any sleep medications. He or she can make sure the pills won't interact with your other medications or with an existing medical condition. Your doctor can also help you determine the best dosage. If you do take a sleep medication, reduce the dosage gradually when you want to quit, and never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. If you feel sleepy or dizzy during the day, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or discontinuing the pills.
Most of us have occasional sleepless nights, but if this is a common occurrence for you see your doctor. An assessment may reveal a sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome that can be helped. Identifying and treating the cause of your sleep disturbance can help get you back on the road to a good night's sleep. Sleep tight!