August 11, 2012

Ask a Nurse: Good-night, Sleep-tight!

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.

Good-night, sleep-tight!

Do you ever have trouble getting to sleep? Staying asleep? Or maybe you always have trouble sleeping. Today I want to give you some proven tips to help you be more successful getting to sleep and staying asleep.

  • Have a set bedtime and wake-up time, and stick to it.

This seems simple, but most of us are not very good at keeping the same sleep schedule. If you keep to the same sleeping schedule within about 20 minutes before or after, you will be more likely to get to sleep easier, and wake up feeling refreshed. This is, of course, if you are getting the correct amount of sleep. This leads us to the next tip…

  • Avoid long naps during the day.

Your body needs a certain amount of sleep each night. If you are having trouble sleeping at night and are taking long naps during the day, try skipping or shortening your naps. We naturally get sleepy in the afternoon; this is a great time to take a short nap. Naps longer than 45 minutes can affect your ability to get to sleep when you want to in the evening.

  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.

There is a widely believed myth that alcohol is good to help you sleep. You can fall asleep easier, perhaps, but when the blood level of alcohol drops, you get a stimulant effect that can wake you up and prevent you from getting back to sleep very easily.

  • Avoid caffeine for 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.

You want to be sure to avoid any stimulants such as coffee, tea, or too much chocolate in the evening hours to help you not wake up feeling wide awake in the middle of the night.

  • Avoid heavy, fatty or spicy foods 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.

When your body is working hard to digest a large meal, or you have spicy food in your stomach, it is harder for you to stay asleep.

  • Avoid strenuous exercise for about 2 hours before you go to bed.

Regular, strenuous exercise actually will help you sleep more soundly, but not if it is too close to your bedtime.

  • Have a light snack before bed.

A small snack can help you fall asleep. Warm milk actually works, especially if you have it with a food high in tryptophen, such as a banana.

  • Bedtime rituals are not just for kids!

Having a bedtime ritual is helpful for anyone, not just kids! Doing the same things before bed each night tells our bodies to prepare for sleep. A warm bath, soft music, prayer time, whatever works for you. Use this time before bed to consciously relax and leave your worries behind. Some people find it helpful to write down what they are worried about and then make an effort to leave the worries on the paper for the night.

  • Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as you can.

Use blinds, window shades or room darkening curtains. A sleep mask can be helpful, too. Try to have the TV or radio off, these can stimulate you instead of put you to sleep. Very soft music may be more relaxing, if you must have some noise.

  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.

Having your room too cold or too warm can keep you awake. Most people feel more comfortable in a cool bedroom.

  • Make sure your bedding is comfortable.

A comfortable mattress is a good investment. Try them out at the store, and stay for at least 15 minutes on the mattress you are considering. There is no way you will know if a mattress is comfortable to you if you only try it for a minute or two. Find a store that has a comfort guarantee.

  • Only use your bed for sleeping or snuggling!

Are you guilty of breaking this one? I am! Your bed should be used only for sleeping or sex. If you keep your bed reserved for these and only these activities, your mind will know it is time to sleep when you get in bed. It doesn’t hurt to try!

I hope you have found a few new ideas to help you sleep better.  I am breaking the first tip right now, so I had better get to bed!

Remember that this information is never to take the place of your Doctor’s advice. Always consult your Doctor before you follow any medical or health-related advice.

Please write to me at [email protected] if you have a health concern you would like me to address in a future column.

Be Well,

Nurse Pam

To see all Ask a Nurse articles click here.


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