Sleep Like a Baby in 5 Steps
Katherine Takayasu, MD, MBA, Center for Integrative Medicine & Wellness
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. Here are some things you can consider for how to sleep better.
1. How caffeine affects sleep: 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. Blue light's effect on sleep: 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 for adults: 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. Sleep patterns change with 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 or visit the Stamford Health Center for Sleep Medicine. 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.