By: Sheila Hautbois, PA-C, MPH

Wouldn’t it make sense to optimize an activity that you spend about one-third of your life doing? Yes, of course it would! So let’s discuss sleep and review some tips for improving it. Ultimately, sleep quality impacts our whole quality of life.

Millions of people do not obtain good sleep. Some complain about sleep quality; others complain about quantity. The amount of money spent on sleeping pills around the world is huge and continues to grow.

Experts continue to recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night as ideal for adults. Less than seven hours of sleep is associated with decreased productivity, performance, alertness, judgment, memory, and ability to fight infections. In adequate sleep time is also associated with increased irritability, accidents, weight, blood pressure, and risk of diabetes or heart disease. More than nine hours of sleep per night is associated with depression or medical illnesses.

What happens during sleep? Cells divide, muscles rebuild, and injuries experience more rapid healing. Liver function accelerates. Short-term memories transfer to long-term storage. Growth hormone is released. Our brain and nerves get recharged. Sleep for a person is like what plugging in and recharging is for a cell phone. Our body rests during dreaming sleep, and our mind rests during the other phases of sleep. Everyone dreams, even those who do not remember the dreams.

  • Stick to a consistent wake schedule throughout the week, ideally waking within an hour or so of the same time each day.

  • Try to get a few minutes of sunlight every day.

  • Get some regular exercise during the day.

  • Limit caffeine (tea, coffee, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, and some medications).

  • Avoid heavy or spicy evening meals.

  • Avoid nicotine in the evening; better yet, quit altogether.

  • Don’t use naps to substitute for nighttime sleeping; limit most naps to 30 minutes and only in the first half of your day.

  • Be sure you have a good mattress and pillow, plus bedding that helps you stay at a comfortable temperature throughout the night.

  • Keep the room temperature slightly cool but not too cold.

  • Sleep positioned on your side or back.

  • If you snore and experience daytime sleepiness, get evaluated for sleep apnea.

  • Limit alcohol; it interrupts the normal sleep cycle and causes early waking.

  • Try establishing a regular bedtime routine.

  • Keep a small notebook and pen by your bed to jot down any thoughts you want to remember the next day.

  • Soak in a warm Epsom salt bath in the evening.

  • Get into bed when you feel tired. If you don’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, go do something relaxing and come back and try again a bit later.

  • Try reading before bed instead of using electronics or watching television.

  • Ensure your bedroom is dark, without ambient light.

  • Block out bothersome noise with earplugs, “white noise”, relaxing music or nature sounds, and double-pane windows.

  • Do deep breathing or progressive relaxation exercises while lying in bed.

  • Try meditation or prayer right before bed.

  • Associate your bed only with sleep and intimacy; don’t work or watch TV in bed.

  • Close your eyes while trying to fall asleep.

Professional help can be useful if practicing good sleep hygiene is not enough. Stress management and relaxation training are often helpful. Professional counseling can teach positive thoughts and realistic expectations about sleep. Your pharmacist can review your medications to ensure none are interfering with sleep. Your primary care provider should be able to recommend some medical treatments if more help is needed after all of the above have been tried.

Sheila Hautbois, PA-C, MPH

Sheila Hautbois, PA-C, MPH is a Board-Certified Physician Assistant with a Masters in Public Health and many years experience providing screenings, seminars and health coaching for chronic disease prevention and reversal. She has helped thousands of people improve blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, diabetes, heart disease, energy level and other health issues.