There’s a lot you can do to regain control over your sleep. Minor lifestyle and environment changes, such as preparing for sleep, following a sleep schedule, and making your bedroom conducive to sleep can have a major impact. If you do shift work, there are ways to meet the unique challenges you face.
Prepare for sleep - Setting the stage for a good night’s sleep can help you get your mind and body into “sleep mode.”
Bedroom check - Your bedroom may not be as conducive to sleep as it could be. The following strategies can make your bedroom more sleep-friendly:
Tips for shift workers - If you need to get a good night's sleep during the day, one of your biggest challenges may be dealing with the sunlight. Here are some suggestions:
Things to Avoid - Some activities can interfere with sleep — especially if you engage in them too close to bedtime:
Discover Patterns - To solve any problem, you have to identify it first. One reliable way to pinpoint your sleep problems is to keep track of each night’s sleep (or lack of it) for about seven days. The easy-to-use sleep diary offered here can help you find out if anything you are doing during the day, in the evening, or at bedtime might be contributing to your sleep difficulty. Like many individuals, you may have developed habits that get in the way of restful sleep. Even if you think you know the causes and nature of your sleep problems, use the sleep diary. You may be surprised by the patterns you uncover.
How to use the sleep diary - Each day’s sleep log takes only a few minutes to complete. After the seven days, you will have a detailed picture of your sleep habits. With all the facts in front of you, it will be easier for you and your doctor to detect patterns that can lead to solutions.
Older Adults and Sleep - Contrary to popular perception, older adults do not need less sleep as they age. Like younger adults, they require between seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. Older people may seem to need less sleep because they are prone to waking up more frequently during the night.
Sleep Promoting Techniques Offered By Others
Not Thinking - "I have one method that never fails to put me to sleep. As long as I'm 'decently' tired, i.e., not trying to overdo it, it's bedtime, etc., I just lie down, close my eyes, and concentrate on 'not thinking'. This often becomes a competition of my strength of will, versus my instinct to think. Occasionally a pinprick of an idea strikes you, but you just have to ignore it, and it always puts me to sleep in about two minutes. It's better then just lying there. "
Backwards Counting / Mental Computer - "Even though I am only a kid, I still have problems falling asleep sometimes. Usually, all I have to do is count backwards from 1,000, taking a deep breath in between each number, as far as it takes to get to sleep." Another mental exercise to use is to mentally 'type' in your worries onto a mental computer, such as 'fear', 'stress', and 'anxiety'. Then hit the delete key until the entire "screen" is blank." I know many adults often say, 'I wish I was as carefree as a kid,' but it really isn't that easy to be a kid!
Earplugs - "How about plain old-fashioned earplugs? I finally figured out that the reason I couldn't relax into sleep was that I was being kept irritated and awake by the crickets chirping outside my window. Earplugs work! And they're inexpensive, too."
Secure Place - "A technique that I have found most useful is to envision myself in some ideal spot: a house, say, that is perfectly secure and warm while a blizzard rages outside. I picture a window next to my bed, with snow striking against it. Then I work out the layout of the house, the heating system, the surroundings; and I make them all ideal so that the idea of security and no disturbing thoughts can intrude."
Bedtime Routine - "It helps to develop a bedtime routine. Have a series of things that you always do when going to sleep. For example, before going to bed, feed the dog, fold laundry, check the locks. Humans are creatures of habit. Remember Pavlov’s dogs? He rang a bell and they knew it was dinnertime. It's the same theory. Doing this will 'program' your body to know that it's bedtime."
Hot Water Bottle - "To help you sleep after a high stress day, lie down with a hot water bottle on your stomach, close your eyes and breath deeply, so the bottle rises and falls. We carry a lot of tension there and the weighted heat releases it."
Green Cows—and Other Animals of Color - A technique I've generally had good success with is to visualize animals in the wrong colors. For example, blue cat, green cow, red elephant, and so on. After coming up with a color/animal combination I try to actually visualize it and then I move on to the next one. Coming up with the combinations and then trying to picture the animal seems to keep my mind occupied and distracted from whatever stressful thoughts were keeping me awake and it gets boring enough that I can generally fall asleep pretty quickly.
The Impact of Daily Sleep Duration on Health: A Review of the Literature
Gonzalo G. Alvarez, MD; Najib T. Ayas, MD, MPH University of British Columbia (Prog Cardiovasc Nurs. 2004;19:56–59)
"A healthy amount of sleep is paramount to leading a healthy and productive lifestyle. Although chronic sleep loss is common in today's society, many people are unaware of the potential adverse health effects of habitual sleep restriction. Under strict experimental conditions, short-term restriction of sleep results in a variety of adverse physiologic effects, including high blood pressure, activation of the sympathetic nervous system (causing stress, tension and possible anxiety) , impairment of blood sugar control, and increased inflammation. A variety of studies have also suggested an association between self-reported sleep duration and long-term health. Individuals who report both an increased (9-11 hrs/night) or reduced (<7 hrs/night) sleep duration are at modestly increased risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and developing symptomatic diabetes. Although the data are not definitive, these studies suggest that sleep should not be considered a luxury, but an important component of a healthful lifestyle."
Dr. Rick Liva, RPh, ND, is a Naturopathic Physician and the Managing Director at the Connecticut Center for Health, as well as the Chief Medical Officer and Director of Quality at Vital Nutrients in Middletown, CT.