Ways to Sleep Better

Last Update: Jun 27, 2021

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We are all very busy here in WA trying to balance our professional lives, family responsibilities, maybe starting a new business, writing blogs, and taking care of everything else.

It is very tempting to take hours away from sleep to invest them in our business. One word (OK, maybe two) for those who have fallen into this trap:

Don't

If you want to live out your days in health, one of the most important things you can do is to get enough sleep. It turns out sleep deprivation increases your odds of getting everything from diabetes or hypertension to cancer (yes, cancer).

The CDC noted studies showing,

"Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. ... Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity"

So not only do you perform poorly, get depressed, and die young, you also feel tired and exhausted all day. I have learned to question whether that bit of extra work I did the night before was worth feeling bad the next day.


Ways to Sleep Better

Regular sleep schedule. In counseling patients about getting better sleep, I find people almost invariably have an irregular sleep schedule. This is particularly true in teenagers, but it is also the case in over-achievers.

We tend to "sleep in" on the weekends and go to bed when the work is done and not when the clock says it is time.

The first rule of good sleep is to get regular sleep. It turns out that many of our hormones are tied to sleep - especially things like your steroid (cortisol) level, growth hormone, thyroid hormone. When people get irregular sleep, all these hormones get irregular and that's one reason why you feel bad and why health gets adversely affected.

Get Enough Sleep. Sorry folks, but adults need about 8 hours of largely uninterrupted sleep at night. Ignore those who try to "train themselves" to "get along" with less sleep. They will pay for less sleep with their health.

So how do you get enough sleep?

There's a lot we can do to make our sleep better. Unfortunately, as we get older, it gets harder to get enough good sleep. Our circadian rhythm becomes more shallow, and we lost most of our "deep" delta or stage three sleep that we had when younger.

But there are definitely things we can do to improve the chances of better sleep!

The Rules

1. Exercise. Try not to exercise within two to four hours of sleep time, but exercise is a great way to improve sleep. The Sleep Foundation has a nice article about exercise and sleep here => https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-activity/exercise-a...

That site discusses the Sleep In America poll which in 2013 examined adults about sleep and exercise. Briefly, they found that those who did light to vigorous exercise reported better sleep than those who did not.

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/R...

2. Turn off all your devices. Watching television or staring at a bright computer screen are bad for sleep. The bright light tells the brain that it is daytime instead of nighttime. Blue light turns out to be particularly bad for sleep, Also, having a smartphone in the room turned on can be disturbing to your sleep with it making sounds from social media or email.

Put your smartphone in another room and use another way to get yourself up in the morning (like an alarm clock).

3. Watch the caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine is a potent stimulant, and you should not drink any caffeine within about six hours of going to bed. Alcohol affects your sleep another way. Alcohol is a sedative that might help you fall asleep. But when the alcohol wears off in 4 - 6 hours, your brain will likely become even more active than when you are not drinking. This "rebound" effect will tend to limit your sleep at night.

4. Get a good sleep environment. Find out what works for you; usually, a low room temperature, comfortable mattress, no lights on, no television on (no television should be in the bedroom), feel of the bedsheets, head elevated, etc. All these factors will affect how you sleep at night.

5. Regular sleeping hours. Get into a regular bedtime and get-up time every day - even on the weekends. If you can't fall asleep within 20 - 30 minutes don't just lay there in bed; get up and do something quietly in a dark environment until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed.

You do not want to associate going to bed with having a hard time sleeping.

Summary

These are just a few of the rules about sleeping better - one of the most important things you do every day.

If you are really having a problem sleeping well at night, then see your primary care physician for help. Sometimes there are other factors at work such as sleep apnea.

But a lot of the reasons why we do not sleep well are within our control.

We need to take care of ourselves, or we will not be around to take care of others.

Let me know what you think!

Dave.

Recent Comments

52

Oh boy Dave, you have written a post I defy every day. I don't mean to but I find myself wired and up until 4:00 in the morning at times. I'm adjusting after a trauma and illlness, but my circadian rhythm is a disaster! I truly appreciate this article; it's seems to be providence because I needed to hear it. :)

I take what you said seriously. I've always been a night owl. My mother told me it was because I was born at 4:11 in the morning. My best writing seems to be at those hours. But the next day I pay for it.

Have a great week Dave! Thank you for the post

Thanks for the message - It is difficult to stop working when you are being productive. I know because I don't always practice what I preach!

Thanks for your post and have a good weekend.

Dave.

You're right doc; (Dave :) ). In fact, this weekend I "ordered" myself to slow down enough to get some sleep. I get caught up in a productive spirit, and I just don't want to go to bed. I find myself looking at the clock at 12:20, and the next thing you know it's 4:30 AM. I'm going to try! Have a great weekend Dave! "Rest well." :)

This is a good reminder, Dave to keep in the head and not in a binder. The Suzayer got a bit of the Seuss Sayer, and that rhyme thing is hard to shake.
Thank you for the tips that will keep us healthier for the long run.
Much appreciated Dave!

Suzay

Thanks for your comments! We all need to try to remain healty in the long run!

Dave.

Like I said Suzay, you have a way with words! So well put
Suzyer the Seuss Sayer. OMG I love that; Dr. Seuss had some points in the flying carpet wild world sort of way of nonsense mixed with logic. I love it! :)

I have always been fortunate with sleep. I have been lucky enough to sleep easily and when woken I can go back to sleep with very little trouble.

I did not know this was a skill until I was older and ran into people who would have trouble getting to sleep and then trouble getting back to sleep when woken.

I am lucky. Long may it continue.

Alex

You are indeed very fortunate to not have difficulty sleeping. Usually, as people get older, they seem to have greater difficulty sleeping. It seems like the hardest thing most have to deal with is trying to have a fixed in-stone sleep schedule. That seems to be the most important thing in keeping a good sleep schedule.

I admit I do get a good amount of sleep most nights.

When I was working, we are on 24hr call and you caught sleep when you could. Sometimes you would be awake for more than a day or two catching cat naps when possible. I was lucky to be able to sleep easily then.

Now I try to get 7 to 8 hours per night. I get up around 4 to 4:30 most days and usually wake up naturally. But this means I go to bed around 8 most evenings and read until 9 or so. If it is a good book I sometimes read longer.

I am fortunate, I know. I struggle to understand people who say they cannot get to sleep because it has always been easy for me. I hope it stays that way.

A night of good sleep is important.

Hi Dave
Thank you for this important post.

I am not a health professional but... as a coach, I've taken an interest in brain health and the mind since about 1980 and followed scientific developments over the years.

Then due to Covid I've spent a great deal of time over the last 18 months working as a volunteer helping out at my wife's care home (she's a Portuguese nurse) and as a result taken more interest in dementia etc.

I understand that relatively recent 'discoveries' are that during the early hours of sleep the brain 'works at' flushing out dead cells all around the body and after a few hours it starts to generate replacement cells, including brain cells (now often referred to as brain plasticity).

I'm sure you know more than I do about this. However, as I understand it, if sleep is interrupted, when we get back to sleep the brain starts its housekeeping routine again and the delay can mean that it never gets around to creating new cells.

Are you able to add any clarity to this please?
:-)
Richard

What an interesting question! There are at least two aspects to your post. The first is dementia.

Dementia can cause profound sleep problems including the all too familiar problem with sundowning. People with dementia get less sleep, more fragmented sleep, sleep more during the daytime, and can be up at night. They also have other sleep problems more often such as REM behavior disorder, depression which can interfere with sleep, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome.

We also know that people who are chronically sleep-deprived have a greater chance of developing dementia. Part of what goes on while asleep is getting rid of the beta-amyloid and tau particles associated with brain pathology in dementia. This accumulation can even occur over a few nights of poor sleep. Of course, the sleep fragmentation from dementia will worsen this accumulation which then worsens dementia - a cycle downhill.

A good article from the Sleep Foundation can be found here =>

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01118/full

Neuroplasticity is the other part of your excellent comment. It is one of the great discoveries in neuroscience of the last few decades that we have some control over our brain function - and even anatomy.

There are all different ways to positively affect neuroplasticity and fight dementia as shown in this article - sleep is included as one of the positive factors =>

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01118/full

This article shows the beneficial effect of music and sleep, among many other positive influences. There are even apps you can download based on this research that seems to improve cognitive function.

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/technology/11-brain-training-apps-train-your-mind-and-improve-memory.html

This is an ongoing field of research with tremendous importance due to our aging population and an increasing number of people with advanced neurocognitive dysfunction; if there could be a way to identify these people and start them on neuroplasticity programs then it might be possible to reduce dementia.

Thanks for your comment!

Dave.

Hi Dave
Thank you for the links in your comment. Much appreciated.

What interests me most are the following ideas...

It seems that when the brain shuts down for sleep it carries out 'maintenance' functions, one at a time.

First, it flushes out dead and 'diseased' cells, then later 'rebuilds' itself from re-generated cells. Those functions don't seem to happen at the same time.
So if someone has difficulties sleeping it is likely that the flushing process is incomplete and/or the rebuilding process is incomplete.

Thanks for the discussion!
:-)
Richard

Great advice Dave, worry and stress are the two main reasons I don't sleep so well at times, maybe a slightly above average red wine consumption doesn't help much in the long run too!

I totally agree that in order to care of others, we have to take care of ourselves first.

Thanks for your comment and support. Sleep can be difficult to come by because we have such anxiety-provoking lives.

Keep up the good work!

Dave.

Much appreciated Dave, you too!

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