You’ve had a long day and you’re exhausted. You finally call it a night and get into bed for a restful eight hours. You try to relax, but all of a sudden your mind is in overdrive. It’s rehashing the day and planning for tomorrow, next week, and next year. In short order, any thoughts of restful sleep have flown out the window.
Whether it’s falling asleep, waking in the wee hours of the night, or not sleeping deeply—or at all—throughout the night, sleep issues have a huge impact on your life. That’s because your body rejuvenates, heals, and resets itself while you’re asleep. Not getting enough shut-eye leaves you exhausted, distracted, forgetful, and prone to mistakes and accidents. Poor sleep can also increase your risk for other health problems, such as heart disease, obesity, depression, and ulcers. The bottom line is that you need to get sleep, and you need to get enough of it to maintain your health.
The good news is that, in many cases, you don’t need to reach for prescription medications or an over-the-counter sleep aid. Some tweaks to your lifestyle and before-bed rituals may be all you need. If you have a hard time falling asleep or struggle with getting enough hours of good quality sleep, here are some things to try:
1. Make sleep a priority—as important as eating well, exercising, or taking medications. If you’re a super-busy person, this may actually translate into putting sleep into your schedule.
2) Do something relaxing, such as reading a book, meditation, stretching, or taking a warm bath before bedtime. These activities help you unwind and over time your body will associate them with sleep.
3. Finish eating two or three hours before you go to sleep. Digesting your food and sleeping don’t mix. Also, avoid over-stimulating food late in the day. Coffee, spicy foods, and alcohol all can play a role in sleep disturbances.
4. Keep the room where you sleep cool, as feeling warm can interrupt your sleep.
5. Be sure the room you sleep in is dark. Even a little bit of light is enough to wake you up.
6. Step away from the computer, phone, and TV screens at least an hour before you go to sleep. The light emitted from these screens is as bright as those used in seasonal light therapy lamps, which can keep you awake.
7. Exercise during the day to help you sleep better. Just don’t do strenuous workouts right before bed.
8. Try to get to sleep at around the same time every night. After a couple of weeks, your body will get the message that it’s time to sleep and begin to feel tired at that time. Also wake up at roughly the same time every day, including on the weekends. Setting consistent times for sleeping and waking helps your body sleep better at night.
9. Meditate. If you’re tossing and turning, try concentrating on your breathing. It’s a little hypnotic and may help you fall asleep. If you need help, there are a number of apps for meditation and visualization, and there are some really good ones that are free—check out Insight Timer.
10. Wind down before you actually get into bed. Stop working, watching TV, or any other activities that stimulate your mind. This helps your body move into the mindset of slowing down for sleep.
11. Go to sleep when you’re drowsy. Your body releases melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. However, the surge of melatonin only lasts for a short time. If you ignore your sleepiness, it’s harder to nod off when you finally do go to bed.
12. Get some help in the form of acupuncture or massage. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been used for thousands of years to help people sleep. In China, it’s one of the first treatments used for patients to improve the quality of their sleep. Also, scheduling regular massages helps to reduce muscle tension, relieve stress, and promote relaxation.
How much sleep do you need? It actually depends on your age. Interestingly, the older you are, the less you need. While babies and small children need anywhere from 12 to 17 hours, teenagers need 8 to 10 hours, adults under age 64 need 7 to 9 hours, and those over 65 need about 7 or 8 hours per night. If you’re regularly sleeping considerably less than is recommended for your age, you’re likely not functioning at your best, and your health may be suffering.
The bottom line is that if getting enough sleep feels like a challenge, there are some things you can do. You don’t need to lie there night after night looking at the ceiling. By making sleep a health priority and switching things up a bit, you can set the stage for getting a better night’s sleep.
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com