Like eating, drinking, and breathing, sleep is essential. Our physical health, emotional well-being, and healthy brain function depend on it. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a long list of negative effects on health: reduced immunity / increased risk of getting sick, weight gain, premature aging, increased blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and on and on. Sleep deprivation is an age-old form of torture used in war times to “break” an enemy.
Enough already, right! You probably don’t need the abundant clinical details to convince you of sleep’s restorative powers – knowing how much better you feel and think after a good night’s sleep is convincing enough. So what are some tips for improving sleep? As we get older and our melatonin levels drop, for most of us it becomes more important that we actively create healthy sleep habits:
- Make healthy eating choices throughout the day.
- Get movement during the day, and spend some time outside if possible.
- Avoid nicotine and limit caffeine – that 4 pm cup of coffee can be still keeping you in awake mode at 10 pm or midnight.
- Limit daytime naps to no more than 20 minutes.
- Set a routine including a bedtime that works best with your circadian rhythm.
- Get to a healthy weight (yep, once again a factor – see Nutrition Bridge articles).
- Avoid strenuous exercise or large meals (a healthy snack is okay) within a couple of hours of bedtime.
- Avoid drinking alcohol within 1-1/2 hours of bedtime. If your sleep is often disrupted by getting up to go to the bathroom, avoid drinking anything within a couple of hours of bedtime.
- Allow an hour to wind down with quiet time, relaxation techniques, or a hot bath.
- Turn off the TV and cell phone by 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Get your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a night light is okay).
You can also check with your doctor and she / he will probably agree that taking melatonin can be helpful, particularly for getting on a regular sleep schedule. If administered an hour before bedtime, melatonin can be a useful tool for supporting our natural sleep cycles. Avoid the habit of dependence – this is not intended as a permanent “crutch” for sleeping well.
Here’s a Melatonin link to a convenient and fast-absorbing melatonin product that I use and like.