It’s 1 a.m., and you have tried everything to fall asleep. You’ve read a book. You’ve kept your room dark and cool. You have taken those racing thoughts from your head and jotted them on a Post-It Note.
Susan Harris-Broomfield has been there, too.
From her work in health-related fields and personal experience with sleep deprivation, she understands the importance of a good night’s sleep.
“Sleep just encompasses so many issues for our overall quality of life,” Susan said. It can impact memory, heart health, hormones and even obesity.
“There are so many things that sleep influences that a lot of people don’t realize,” she said.
That’s why she new it was so important to find out how to get a better night’s sleep.
Health statistics estimate that 25-30 percent of Nebraskans don’t get enough sleep. That’s one in three people who are not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
So when Susan started her job with Nebraska Extension in the field of rural health, wellness and safety, she wanted to see what she could do to help. She interviewed several doctors and other specialists who are experts and have studied sleep. She compiled the information into a presentation that she has given to groups and employers across the state.
“I am a victim of sleep deprivation,” she said. “Those of us who struggle with it have this intense desire to learn about it.”
Susan said the number one tip that every expert recommended for a good night’s sleep was to get up at the same time each morning – even on the weekends. That extra hour of sleep on Saturday could be doing more harm than good.
She also said that it’s important to get plenty of light during the morning hours, especially between 6-8 a.m. and to take part on some physical activity during the day.
“If you do nothing physical throughout awake time, your body has no reason to rest and you will most likely have sleep issues,” she said.
One tip that Susan said she would never recommend is taking sleeping pills because the body can easily become dependent upon them and cause more harm than good in the long run.
Below are Susan’s Top 30 Tips for A Good Night’s Sleep:
- GET UP at the same time every day, and try to keep your sleep schedule as regular as possible.
- Try Sleep Restriction Therapy: Keep track of sleep hours for one week, find the average number of hours slept per night. Start going to bed at a time that allows you only that number of hours of sleep and do that for one week, then add 15 minutes of sleep each week until you wake up before the alarm. It will take several weeks of dedication, but it works when consistent! (Ex: M=6, T=5.25, W=5.75, Th=6.5, F=7, S=8.25, Su=6.75; total 45.5) Avg. hours per night = 6.5; Week 2- go to bed at 12, get up at 6:30; Week 3 – go to bed at 11:45, get up at 6:30; Week 4- go to bed at 11:30…
- Create mental triggers before bedtime like we do for children: have a warm bath, read a book, eat a light snack, put on pajamas, create a to-do list for the next day so your head is clear of those things.
- Wear non-restrictive clothing or none at all. Anything that tangles around you when turning over in bed, pushes against your bladder, or creates too much heat must GO.
- Set nighttime temperature at 60-68 degrees. Bodies must cool down for good sleep. Vasodilation, or blood vessels dilating, carries heat to the skin in waking hours and then the skin will cool down, signaling the brain that it is time to sleep.
- HOWEVER, cold feet can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Place a hot water bottle, heating pad, or corn bag at your feet under the covers if socks don’t warm them enough.
- Focus on sleep position—spine aligned, arms and legs not bent much, no leg-stacking. On your back is best unless you have sleep apnea, left side is next best for digestion and waste elimination (keep spine aligned and arms not kinked), right side is third best, and on your front is worst (it kinks the neck, flattens spine leading to back pain, and restricts your airway/breathing).
- Change pillow or mattress plushness—fat pillows are only good for propping up to read and nothing else; try a pillow between your legs for hip support.
- Once in bed, do a body inventory. Focus on one body part at a time from head to toes and relax each one. Remember the key and always come back to it. Remove tongue from the roof of the mouth.
- Talk to your physician about a blood test to determine iron level, or discuss any current meds that may affect sleep. Sometimes just taking medicine at a different time of day makes a difference. Melatonin is the “Dracula hormone” that regulates our sleep cycle. The kind we take orally is from animal sources (not a synthetic drug) and might be helpful for shift work and setting a sleep cycle—always in low doses, as high doses mess with your body’s ability to produce melatonin on its own again later. Never become dependent upon sleeping pills. It is a last resort saved for rare occasions and usually has consequences.
- Get direct sunlight or photo therapy light between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. or soon after you wake if shift working, and start dimming lights indoors at sunset or a couple hours before bedtime. As the eyes age, lenses yellow and pupils narrow, which make it difficult to collect light our bodies need. Take vitamin D3 if you’re not getting quality sunlight during the day. When your shadow is shorter than you, that time of day is best for needed light. Indoor lights are 1,000 to 10,000 times dimmer and at the wrong end of the spectrum for effectiveness. Get outside!!!
- Lose weight that causes difficulty breathing to relieve stress on internal organs. In many cases, this means only 5 to 10 pounds for a significant difference. If you do nothing physical throughout awake time, your body has no reason to rest and you will most likely have sleep issues. Do an activity you enjoy, but quit a couple hours before bedtime so your body can cool down. Add more activity to your day while doing mundane things. When you find yourself sitting, GET UP and move at least every hour! Ideas: During television commercials, do leg lifts on the floor or stand and push up to toes and back several times. When driving, flex and point toes and do shoulder rolls. Try a stand-up desk if you sit all day.
- Be more mindful of what you put into your body. Eat REAL food and drink lots of water but quit a few hours before bedtime. Alcohol tends to wake you up in the middle of the night and contributes to snoring. Avoid it.
- Establish a Caffeine Curfew. Limit intake to mornings only and have less.
- Move electronics at least six feet from your bed, and have no blue light (or any light) in your room whatsoever. In hours leading up to bedtime, use a blue light filter for iPad or computer, and set cell phone as: settings > display & brightness > night shift and “more warm” on a timer for every evening.
- Turn off all devices so there is no dinging, vibrating, or lighting up happening while you sleep. You can set your cell phone to ring only for selected calls under “Do Not Disturb” setting. Alarms do still work in airplane mode.
- Kick the pets (or kids) out of bed! Kicking the spouse out of bed is also an option, but if there is significant snoring with paused breathing or gasping, see a physician to check for sleep apnea. At-home sleep apnea tests are available so staying overnight in a hospital for a sleep study is no longer necessary. Sleep apnea can be life threatening. The brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, and it leads to high blood pressure, diabetes, headaches, and heart problems. If you want to keep your bed partner and you’re sure the snoring is not sleep apnea, try soft ear plugs. Be sure to insert correctly.
- Use a humidifier next to bed during winter and keep it clean! Dry winter air is a major factor in sinus issues. Use a fan in the summer for air movement.
- Try creating some background noise to drown out other noise in the bedroom. Use a non-lighted noise machine or download the “White Noise” app on your phone (remember to keep phone plugged in while using the app). The app can create noises ranging from crickets to oceans or rainstorms, depending on what you prefer.
- Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. Intimacy = sleep. Sleep = higher libido. It’s a full circle of benefits!
- Stretch more throughout the day and especially when you wake up. This pushes blood to your muscles and brain for more energy, better concentration, and help with injury prevention.
- Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys. They are jumping, chattering, and screeching continually, especially as we try to fall asleep. It is actually a version of an anxiety disorder. If Monkey Mind thoughts are keeping you awake, try taking some time in the evening to process your day. Sometimes processing it in bed becomes a habit that makes your subconscious regard sleep as a threat. If necessary, negotiate with your monkeys about worst-case scenarios (they are usually not life-or-death results), jot to-do notes if it helps, then go to bed and think happy thoughts, listen to an upbeat podcast, read a book, or concentrate on deep breathing and body part relaxation. Rather than fretting about not falling asleep, try thinking about staying awake. It may seem counterintuitive, but it can lower your anxiety level enough to relax. Don’t force a bedtime if you’re absolutely not sleepy. Your body must want to sleep.
- Try pleasant scents in your room (aromatherapy) like lavender, which is proven to promote relaxation. This can be in spray form or through a diffuser.
- In the winter, preheat your bed with an electric blanket or electric mattress pad, but turn it off when you get into bed. Again, vasodilation will lead to a cooling of the body, but that initial warmth in a chilly room is extremely relaxing.
- Stop watching television or using the computer at least an hour before going to bed. If you cannot break that habit, use a blue light-reducing screen or turn down the screen’s brightness, at the very least.
- Use your alarm clock the RIGHT way—no snooze button! Get out on time. Similar to establishing constant sleep and wake times, it is about conditioning yourself over weeks, depending on how many times you hit the snooze button. By using snooze, you’ve just wasted five, then ten, then 15 minutes of valuable sleep! Try different alarms that are more pleasant than an annoying beeping or buzzing. Place the alarm across the room if you are prone to going back to sleep.
- Try keeping a waking/sleep diary to keep track of habits and trends that are working. Keep this by your bed to easily record information. Even easier, wear a fitness tracker wristband that also records your sleeping and waking times. Compare to your activity levels, food/drink consumption, and other factors.
- Go to bed each night with a sense of gratitude toward sleep, not dread. Make your bedroom a sanctuary of quiet, clean, uncluttered, cool darkness that you appreciate.
- Use a heavy blanket to tuck around yourself like swaddling a baby. This “deep-touch therapy” promotes sleep when certain parts of the body feel touch or a heavy blanket. This can be a powerful tool for helping to relieve anxiety and to relax the nervous system.
- If you have chronic insomnia, a good treatment may be cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which would involve a licensed sleep therapist analyzing many of the items covered on this list to help you come up with a plan to best tackle your insomnia. In the 1970s, there were three sleep centers in the United States. Today there are more than 2,500 with many now in small hospitals. CBT can be an effective way to have a healthier, happier life, and may be covered by your health insurance plan.
If you would like more information about getting a good night’s sleep or would like to request Susan’s sleep presentation for your group or employer, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.