Health & Wellness

Six Steps to Better Sleep

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Maybe you’ve been tossing and turning in bed since you were a teenager.

Or, perhaps, you slept like a baby until well into your 40s or 50s and are only now finding yourself lying awake at 2 or 3 in the morning, unable to drift back to the “Land of Nod.”

In either case, if you’re sleep-deprived, you’re far from alone. The National Institute on Aging says that almost half of adults 60 and older are affected by insomnia.(1)

That may leave you not only restless at night but also drowsy and irritable during the day. And, over time, according to the Harvard Medical School, a lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease that may contribute to a shortened life expectancy.(2)

While everyone has the occasional poor night of sleep, ongoing insomnia might be a sign of an underlying health problem. Harvard’s Healthy Sleep website offers a simple 10-question sleep disorders screening survey that can help determine whether you may have sleep issues that you should discuss with your physician.

Often, however, small tweaks in habits may lead to a big payoff in better slumber.

Try these six steps:

  1. Keep a sleep journal, like this one from the National Sleep Foundation. That can help you identify patterns that are sabotaging your sleep; say, a late-afternoon cup of coffee or a long nap after your 4 pm workout.
  2. Practice good “sleep hygiene.” Keep your bedroom quiet and cool.
  3. Don’t stay in the dark about lighting.  “Light is the biggest anchor for sleep,” says Colleen Ehrnstrom, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver, Colorado, and co-author of End the Insomnia Struggle: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep. Dim light cues our bodies to produce melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, while the blue light emitted by electronic screens—TV, laptop, cell phone—suppresses melatonin. The bottom line: turn off your devices an hour or two before bedtime.
  4. Catch rays early. “Morning sun is the cheapest and most widely available sleep aid,” says Robert S. Rosenberg, D.O., medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona, and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. “Exposure to sunlight within two hours of awakening is a strong signal to your internal clock to reset itself for a new day.”
  5. Keep a steady sleep schedule. Going to bed the same time every night and, more importantly, waking up the same time every morning regulates your inner timer.
  6. Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I). Identify and then challenge faulty beliefs, such as, “I know if I don’t get eight hours of sleep I’ll be miserable all week,” that can make falling asleep even more unlikely. CBT-I also includes relaxation techniques like guided imagery and muscle relaxation. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a free app called CBT-i Coach.

Sweet dreams!

 References

 1. NIH Senior Health, Sleep and Aging

 2. Healthy Sleep, The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, "Sleep and Disease Risk,"

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