Sleep seems like something that should come easily, but an estimated 50
to 70 million adults have some kind of sleep problem, according to
Centers for Disease Control figures. That’s a lot of lost Zzzs. But with so many demands and
seemingly so little time, it’s not surprising that a lot of us cheat
our sleep to gain a little more time to get things done.
That, though, could end up shortchanging your health in serious ways: Too
little and/or poor-quality sleep has been linked to weight gain, depression,
anxiety and diabetes, among other conditions. The bottom line is that
snooze time is as important as a healthy diet and regular exercise when
it comes to keeping disease and illness at bay and simply feeling your
best. Here are some better-sleep tips from
Dave Wallis, MD, who specializes in family practice and sports medicine.
MAKE YOUR BEDROOM BORING. This is one of the most important things we can do, says Dr. Wallis.
Start by removing the television, books, magazines, gadgets and electronic
devices—anything that distracts your brain from the room in which
you sleep. “Your bedroom is for sleep and sex only,” he stresses.
Everyone wakes up briefly throughout the night, but when you wake and
your brain registers that you’re in a dark, uninteresting room,
it makes it a lot more likely you’ll be able to go back to sleep quickly.
CALM DOWN BEFORE YOU SLEEP. Dr. Wallis recommends keeping your bedroom not only dark (installing blackout
shades can make a huge difference) but also a little cool, and spending
at least 30 minutes before bedtime following a routine that calms and
soothes your body and mind. Start by powering down electronics and TV,
then sip a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea, light a candle, take a calming
shower or bath or listen to music you find relaxing.
SKIP THE SATURDAY AND SUNDAY SLEEP-INS. If there’s one piece of advice that will make the most difference
in getting better sleep, says Dr. Wallis, it’s to be consistent
about your sleep routine. “It’s not good for our sleeping
patterns to only get five to six hours of sleep during the week and then
sleep late on the weekends,” he cautions. “This will only
create more bad sleeping habits. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the
same time every day.”
CONSIDER SUPPLEMENTS. If making these changes to your sleep habits doesn’t help, Dr. Wallis
says it may be worth trying a supplement such as melatonin, a hormone,
or valerian root, an herb that comes in different formulations, including
extracts, capsules, tinctures and teas. Talk to your doctor before trying
any supplement or sleep aid that may interfere with other medication or
a health condition, and to find out which formulation and dosage of a
supplement is best for you.
And if nothing is improving your sleep despite your best efforts, consider
that it may be time to reach out to your primary care physician to get
to the bottom of what’s standing between you and a restful night’s sleep.