Sleep Your Way To Health
~ By Damiana Corca ~
Sleep problems have become more and more common in the last decade. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has declared sleep problems a “health epidemic.” Insomnia is affecting 50 to 70 million Americans, with data trends indicating that these numbers will continue to increase.
And this doesn’t just mean that many of us are tired. Research consistently shows that sleep-deprived individuals have a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Interested in Alzheimer’s prevention? A recent study concluded that the brain clears harmful proteins between cells during sleep phases, which has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The author of the study made an analogy to a house party: as a host, you can either clean or entertain your guests, but you can’t really do both well. The brain is similar, either awake and working, or asleep and cleaning up.
We are all looking for ways to feel our best, whether it’s today or twenty years from now. How can you live your life in the most enjoyable way, free of emotional and physical pain? A balanced daytime routine leads to more peaceful sleep, which all leads to a better, healthier life.
Here are five things to remember when suffering from insomnia or simply trying to improve the quality of your sleep:
- Wind down in the evening to give your nervous system a much-needed break. Allow at least one hour before desired bedtime, to settle down. Start slowing down all activities and stimulations after 7pm.
- Take notice of how you feel in the evening and watch for that perfect moment of sleepiness. If you allow enough time to wind down, at some point you will feel a mild grogginess. This is your time to go to sleep. If you push through this, a second wind will come and make it much harder to fall asleep.
- Avoid the urge to check the time each time you wake up at night. Instead, just set the alarm clock for the morning, so you won’t wonder what time it is and worry it might be morning. Then, have some kind of audio that quiets your mind, ready to play. It can be a meditation, or the podcast “Sleep With Me,” or a favorite CD, or even the radio – anything that helps your mind to relax.
- Take a nap every day. If you can’t fall asleep, lie down for 30 minutes. Put a timer on and allow yourself to rest, anytime between noon and 3pm. When already sleep deprived, the brain doesn’t have enough energy to fall asleep and stay asleep. Naps can provide the extra rest that is needed.
- Avoid caffeine past noon. Consume any alcoholic drinks earlier in the evening, giving your body a chance to completely clear the alcohol from your system before sleep time. The best way to test if caffeine or alcohol affects your sleep is by eliminating them entirely for a few weeks, and then reintroducing them one by one Chart your sleep before, during, and after, and notice any differences.
Little changes like these can make big improvements in your sleep patterns, if you stick with them. Keep track of your efforts by starting a sleep journal. Try diligently journaling for at least one month. Most people learn from their journals and are able to create better habits. Sleep is important, but what most of us are looking for what it brings – feeling good during the day. If you have adequate energy levels and uplifted moods, then you are most likely getting enough sleep, regardless of the exact amount of hours.
Damiana Corca is a Licensed Acupuncturist specializing in sleep problems practicing in Boulder and Denver, CO. Through her practice at damianacorca.com and the program Life After 7pm at lifeafter7pm.com she helps people sleep on their own again.