Good sleep is extremely important for physical health but also to help decrease anxiety, depression and stress. If you look at symptoms of all three of these states, you will see sleep disruption as one of the prominent symptoms of depression and anxiety. Sleep routines and sleep “hygiene”- that’s a ridiculous name for the planning/structure you use to get good sleep so I’m banning that term- often seem inconsequential until you experience disrupted sleep or insomnia. Trying to focus, drive and work or study when exhausted is quite miserable.
If you want an overview of how daylight, dark and sleep are all intertwined, read up on circadian rhythms. (https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/what-circadian-rhythm) I will highlight a few important points as basics to getting decent rest.
But first, about those snooze buttons. You wake and then hit the snooze button for 5 or 10 more minutes which trains your brain to fall right back to sleep. I’ve had multiple people tell me they (or their partner) hits the snooze button over and over for an hour! If you want to wake up easier, stop using snooze and put your alarm clock across the room until you have broken the habit. Set your alarm for when you really actually want to roll out of bed. Then walk across the room, turn off alarm and Do Not go back to bed. Jump in the shower or go to another room. Within a week, you will find you are waking better.
Second- if you are a light sleep and your partner’s alarm is waking you, ask them to start using a silent vibration alarm (from smart phone or from a fitbit).
Here are some basics about getting quality sleep
- Morning daylight is best for your brain and body (which is why 2nd and 3rd shift workers have problems with fatigue and sleep). Melatonin production actually begins in the morning and melatonin is the hormone that activates at around 9pm or 10pm to make you sleepy). Getting up early and outside into daylight is good for you. So take your coffee and smoothie out to the deck or balcony or anywhere outside (a couple of recent studies showed daylight – especially morning light- helped treat depression and bipolar disorder)
- Your body likes routine. Having a consistent sleep time/wake time trains your system to wake and rest.
- Good sleep requires really dark room (or a mask over your eyes), cool room (your body cools down after a warm shower and that cooling is what signals sleep), quiet and no distractions, comfortable mattress. (not too cool- I heard from one husband who couldn’t sleep b/c his girlfriend was turning the air conditioner to 68 and sleeping under a heavy blanket and he was freezing)
- Pets on the bed or in the bedroom can be a serious sleep interruption problem. Though you might not fully wake up, an animal scratching, jingling it’s collar, jumping on bed, crowding you in bed or batting at your hair (cats love this), causes you to actually begin to wake. All night, you are cycling through light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep and these cycles happen about every 90 min. Interruptions are….interruptions. Pets are truly wonderful, but letting your dog (or 2 or 3 of them) crowd you in bed can actually cause you health problems. And dogs and cats actually do like having their own beds!
- Food: best to finish eating about 3 hours prior to sleep. If you had good exercise earlier in the evening, you might need a small high protein snack (ex: some Greek yogurt or peanut butter on whole grain bread, almonds…you get the idea) to carry you through the night because if you are short on calories, you might not sleep as well. Notice what is Not on this list: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or Cereal (both Bad Bad for sleep…read up on sugar and on cereal. Both are favorite snacks but if you want better health, throw out the cereal totally and read up on how sugar is a factor in cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and insulin resistance (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/01/the-startling-link-between-sugar-and-alzheimers/551528/)
- Avoid using computer or phone or iPad 45 min before sleep because the bright light can keep you awake (you can turn the bright light down on iPad if you are reading on it). Have lights low, try to minimize stimulation (so beware of intense games or news or TV). Obviously some people have no difficulty at all falling asleep and may be fine watching an action movie just before bed, but you need to know if you will be wide awake from this)
- Alcohol- though it can help you fall asleep quickly, it actually disrupts your sleep pattern. Best to have small amount with dinner and then switch to water. And keep reading new information on how alcohol affects us as new studies are ongoing (https://www.livescience.com/62858-alcohol-cancer-risk.html)