Ten to fifteen percent of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia. Do you? Most of us experience an occasional sleepless night, but prolonged bouts of insomnia can lead to decreased mental function, frazzled nerves and lowered immunity. In addition, Americans spend more than $2 billion each year on sleep-aiding medications. Sleep is supposed to be a natural process. What's going on? There are many issues in the way of getting a good night's sleep. Daily stresses—work problems, financial difficulties, family challenges—can all keep a person up at night. We rehash what was said over and over again, or we endlessly review the problems confronting us, creating more anxiety and worry while the minutes and maybe even hours tick away. The good news is that you don’t have to pop a pill or count sheep: Just follow these simple, natural steps to get more Zs.
Exercise regularly, because not enough exercise contributes to lack of restful sleep. When you're doing vigorous physical work, your body needs to recover. Sleep allows your body to repair and rebuild, getting stronger in the process. Regardless of one's stresses and worries, vigorous exercise makes a physical demand on your body that will put you right to sleep. If you're not exercising regularly, this strong physiologic need for deep rest is missing, and you'll likely be tossing and turning the night away. Regular exercise is important for good sleep but don’t exercise within six hours of your bedtime. Physical activity speeds up your heart rate and metabolism, making it difficult to wind down at night. Try to schedule your workouts in the morning, so you can benefit from that extra energy during the day.
Eliminate late night eating—particularly fat-filled foods and snacks—as this can interfere with a person's ability to fall asleep and sleep restfully. Late night meals engage all the resources of your digestive system. Your body is actually doing a lot of work when it's supposed to be resting and that is no way to promote rest. And, of course, a lot of this late-night food is stored as fat, creating additional problems. Some may find eating a light snack a couple hours before retiring is helpful to avoid low blood sugar levels in the middle of the night, which can wake you up.
Avoid caffeine after 12 p.m.. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate. People who clear caffeine from their bodies slowly should avoid caffeine completely.
Avoid alcohol. Many people find that alcohol helps them relax at night. Although it may help induce sleep initially, alcohol disrupts your normal sleep patterns, leaving you tired and groggy in the morning.
Keep regular sleeping hours. Your body likes routine and will respond better to a consistent bedtime.
Don’t work on the computer or watch television for at least one hour before going to bed. These activities stimulate your mind at a time when you should be preparing for rest.
Decrease light in your bedroom. A dark environment is necessary for the production of melatonin, a hormone that encourages a healthy sleep cycle.
Try yoga or meditation to clear your mind and help prepare your body for sleep. Like regular sleeping hours, a steady practice will yield the greatest benefits.
In addition, if your insomnia is caused or made worse by aches and pains at night, it may be time for a new mattress and/or pillow. Old, soft, lumpy mattresses are another potential sleep-disturber. But too-firm mattresses may also cause problems. A good mattress is supportive and comfortable, it "gives" in all the right places and provides a balanced, springy platform for a restful night's sleep. Your sleeping surface should support the entire body— including the spine, neck, head, and limbs— evenly, with no gaps. For recommendations tailored to your specific needs, talk to your health care provider. They can also help direct you to important information on customized exercise and nutrition programs that will help you get the rest you need to continue to be healthy and well.
Contributed by Dr. Erica Hamer, DC, DIBCN, DIBE, Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and owner of Ponte Vedra Wellness Center with offices in Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee Town Center.