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Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

These tips are intended for “typical” adults, but not necessarily for children or persons experiencing medical problems.

  • Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule including weekends. Our brains are regulated by an internal clock which balances the body’s need for sleep and awake time. A consistent waking time reinforces this function and will promote the onset of sleep at night.
  • Keep a regular relaxing routine for getting ready for bed. Listen to soothing music, reading or a hot bath or other low-energy activities that establish a separation between daytime activities and demands. Avoid dealing with issues or activities that heighten stress like solving problems or dealing with bills. If you choose tension relieving activities like stretches or a bath, make sure you do this early enough that you will be completely cooled down before actually getting into bed. Avoid things that signal to your system that it is time to wake up like bright lights or loud noise. Proper stimulation during the day will also help to reinforce the sleep/wake cycle.
  • Develop an environment for sleeping that is quiet, cool and dark. Use eye shades, ear plugs or light-stopping shades or curtains if necessary to reduce interruption or distractions. Using very low relaxing music or the “white noise” from fans or humidifiers can block out other disruptions.
  • Make sure your mattress is supportive and comfortable. Get the highest quality you can afford. After all, when you consider that you should be spending 1/3 of your life on a bed, the investment in quality bedding factors out to pennies per hour. Keep in mind that price does not necessarily indicate quality so make your mattress purchase decisions carefully and look for value.
  • Consider replacing your current mattress set if your current one is more than 7 or 8 years old or after age 40. Studies have shown that pressure points change as we age and after we turn forty our sensitivity to these areas increase causing the need for comfort and support to be greater. Select comfortable pillows and replace them at regular intervals to decrease the accumulation of germs and irritants.
  • Research done by The Sleep Council, UK revealed that we can lose up to 1 pound of skin each year as we sleep and as much as 23 gallons of moisture. The Council recommends “airing” out your bedding by pulling back the covers for 20 minutes every morning.
  • Your bedroom should be an oasis for sleep. To strengthen the brain’s association between sleep and the bedroom, limit the type of activity done there. Remove work or project materials, televisions and computers. Eliminate activities or items that increase anxiety from the environment. For example if looking at a calendar makes you anxious about an upcoming event, be sure not to keep it in your bedroom. Pay attention to the décor of the room as well, selecting soothing colors, calming patterns and dark colors.
  • Establish eating patterns that are conducive to sleep. Do not eat at least 2-3 hours before your planned bedtime. Over eating can make you uncomfortable when settling down for bed so avoid heavy meals late in the evening. Foods that cause indigestion or heartburn (like spicy foods) should be avoided, but some people find warm milk or non-caffeinated herbal teas to be a beneficial addition to their sleep-time practices.
  • Exercise regularly, but be sure to do it several hours before you want to go to sleep. Regular exercise can reduce or eliminate stress and make it easier to fall asleep, but doing it on an irregular basis or too close to bedtime can make sleep more difficult. Late afternoon exercise is most favorable because it gives the body ample time to cool down, which is important factor to encouraging sleep.
  • Stay away from products containing caffeine (ie: coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate) the nearer you are to your bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant, producing an increased level or alertness. Caffeine remains in the body on average from 3 to 5 hours, and can have an effect on some people for up to 12 hours. Although some people may not have a difficulty falling asleep after consuming caffeine products, it can often affect quality of sleep.
  • Avoid nicotine products like cigarettes and other tobacco products. Nicotine is also a stimulant and can make it more difficult to fall asleep as well as cause withdrawal symptoms while sleeping and even nightmares. It can also make it harder to wake up in the morning. For safety reasons, never smoke in bed or when sleepy!
  • Refrain from alcohol close to bedtime. Many consider alcohol to be a sedative, but it actually disrupts sleep, generating interruptions in sleep and partial awakenings.

If you continue to have problems sleeping or getting quality sleep, talk to your doctor. Consider keeping a sleep diary and take notes on your schedule, eating habits, and disruptions to your sleep. Taking the diary with you to the doctor will help to isolate causes and lead to more effective treatment.

Source: Ten Tips for Better Sleep by the National Sleep Foundation. For more on sleep, please visit The National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Library and read “Let Sleep Work for You.”