Sleep Like a Baby in Five Steps
#RealLifeRx: Insight from Chief Medical Officer, Sharon Kiely
Sharon C. Kiely, MD, Senior Vice President, Medical Affairs & Chief Medical Officer with Katherine Takayasu, MD, MBA, Center for Integrative Medicine & Wellness
Happy New Year! Recently, a question from a patient struck me as such a simple problem - without a simple solution. The question was about sleep, and she said, “I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in 4 years…” Well, I don’t know about you, but if I don’t sleep well a lot of other things don’t go well. Recently, scientists have learned that a lack of sleep can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and worsen anxiety and depression symptoms. So while getting a good night’s rest is something some of us take for granted, many people struggle with sleep. So I asked my colleague, Katie Takayasu, MD to collaborate with me on this blog to identify some things you can consider to help make your sleep in 2019 better:
1. Decrease your caffeine: Caffeine is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a morning ritual for many that has been linked to increased brain function. On the other, it’s a stimulant. We recommend limiting caffeine to 2 cups per day before noon. Caffeine stays around in our system a lot longer than previously thought. We can measure caffeine in the bloodstream up to 12 hours after drinking it, so that afternoon cup of coffee may be impacting your ability to fall asleep at night.
2. Avoid blue light stimulation: One factor in our ability to fall asleep is a substance known as melatonin that is released by the pineal gland. Melatonin simply tells our brains that it is nighttime, but we slow that release when we expose ourselves to light at night from computers, TVs, smart phones, and other devices. We recommend turning of all devices at least 45-60 minutes before bed. Consider wearing blue light-blocking glasses and using a “night shift” screen filter on your smart phone.
3. Develop a bedtime routine: Any parent will tell you that children need a bedtime routine. If you try to drop any part of the routine, they will certainly let you know! We don’t lose that need as adults. A bedtime routine tells your brain that it’s nearing bedtime, and it helps you fall asleep. Make your bedtime routine relaxing: consider starting with a warm- not hot- bath or shower about 1.5-2 hours before bed, followed by a cup of chamomile tea, and then reading a relatively boring book on your couch until you nod off. Then head to bed.
4. Remember that sleep changes as we age. It’s not realistic to think that we will have the same sleep patterns at age 60 as we did when we were younger. In fact, as we get older our sleep pattern becomes more like that of a young child with more frequent awakenings. And that’s okay. Accepting that sleep will not be an uninterrupted 8 hours every night is important. It gives your brain permission not to be perfect.
5. Go see your doctor. Still struggling? Consult your primary care physician. They may ask key questions about snoring, other medical problems (especially hypertension), and they may want to rule out other issues like restless leg syndrome and help you address chronic pain. Don’t have a primary care doctor? Finding one is easier than ever.