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If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try these 6 tips

  • Category: Sleep
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  • Written By: LVMC Staff
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try these 6 tips

Enjoying restful sleep is fundamental to having a high quality of life. However, for too many people, sleep is elusive. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, approximately 50 to 70 million people in the United States have insomnia, or difficulties either falling asleep or staying asleep.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our healthcare teams are well aware of the ultimate importance of good sleep. Here’s what you need to know about sleep’s crucial role in a healthy lifestyle, as well as 6 sleeping tips if you find yourself having trouble falling asleep.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is not an optional behavior. Sleep is a time during which your body rests, resets, and prepares for the next awake period. Like breathing, or removing waste from your body, sleep is an essential function. Getting enough sleep helps your body’s immune system, mood regulation, hormone regulation, and cognitive function. Often, the importance of sleep is the most obvious when you do not get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation, which refers to getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep (for most adults), can decrease your focus, your ability to solve problems, your ability to regulate your emotions, and your ability to react quickly to changes in your environment.

Not getting enough sleep can actually be dangerous because it can affect your brain to such an extent that you actually resemble someone who is intoxicated. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you’ve been awake for 17 hours straight, it is similar to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. If you’ve been awake for 24 hours straight, it is similar to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10%, which is above the legal limit for driving a vehicle in the US.

What contributes to sleep problems?

Several factors in today’s culture and work atmosphere contribute to sleep problems. Your sleep is highly regulated by your “circadian rhythm,” which is driven by your internal clock. This clock, which has developed throughout human evolution, is derived from the natural 24-hour cycle of days and nights. Some of the hormones that are involved in moderating your circadian clock, such as melatonin and cortisol, are suppressed or altered in today’s environment. For example, many people aren’t exposed to natural sunlight during the day because they spend all of their time indoors, in artificial light. Not being exposed to sunlight can affect their production of the hormone melatonin, which can, in turn, make it harder to get to sleep at night. In today's society, the abundance of caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, sodas, and energy drinks can also interfere with the body’s circadian clock. Using devices that emit blue light (such as cell phones) before bed can also interfere with the body’s natural signals that initiate sleep. Additionally, short-haul and long-haul travel can lead to jetlag, which can disrupt normal sleep cycles.

What to do if you’re having trouble falling asleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that the average adult get 7 or more hours of sleep nightly. However, greater than one-third of adults do not meet this target on a nightly basis. Babies and young children need even more sleep because sleep is so critical to learning and development processes.

Make sure to follow these 6 tips if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night.

Tip #1: Set your sleep schedule

When you’re working hard throughout the week, it’s tempting to stay up late on Friday night and sleep in on Saturday morning. If you repeat the same pattern on Saturday night, waking up late on Sunday morning, then you’re on track to start the new week off poorly because you will likely have difficulty getting to sleep at a reasonable time Sunday night to be up for work on Monday morning. Instead of altering your sleep times and wake times based on the day of the week, experts advise waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day. Staying as close as possible within a specific range can help your body know naturally what to expect when it’s time for bed.

Tip 2#: Focus on sleep hygiene

Sleep experts recommend auditing your sleep hygiene if you are having trouble sleeping. The first place to start is evaluating the setting of your sleeping environment—is it too hot or too cold? Too light or too dark? Too quiet or too loud? Setting a bedtime ritual can also help your body prepare to sleep. Taking a bath, doing meditation, or doing a gentle yoga class can help put you in a proper sleep mindset. Making sure to avoid activating habits before bed, such as using electronics, can also help you prepare for slumber.

Tip 3: Evaluate your daytime routines

What you do during the day can also help lay the groundwork for a good night of sleep. For example, exposing yourself to sunlight during daylight hours can help your brain create melatonin, the sleep hormone that kicks into action before bed. Exercising during the day and staying otherwise active can help “tire out” your body enough that you are ready for sleep at the end of the day.

Make sure to be careful with activities such as napping during the day, because this can cut into your sleep at night and make it more difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sleep experts also recommend avoiding stimulants such as nicotine during the day because these can interfere with your body’s natural ability to relax and fall asleep at night. This can create a toxic cycle of sleep deprivation where you might require more stimulants the next day to keep you awake, further reducing your chances of sleeping well the next time you go to bed.

Tip #4: Watch what you eat and drink before bedtime

While it is true that you may feel drowsy after eating a big meal, sleep experts do not recommend eating a large meal right before bedtime. Eating a meal can make it harder for you to fall asleep because you are more likely to experience symptoms such as heartburn and belching when you are lying flat after a big meal. Eating or drinking right before bed is also more likely to stimulate your bowels and urinary tract, so even if you do fall asleep you might have to wake up again in short order to head to the restroom.

Tip #5: Avoid alcohol before bed

If you have ever considered a “nightcap,” or alcoholic drink, before bed to help you sleep, you may want to think again. While it makes sense that a shot of alcohol could make you a little drowsy and help you fall asleep at the end of the day, alcohol actually has the opposite effect. Not only is alcohol a diuretic (meaning it will make you more likely to have to awaken in the middle of the night to urinate), but alcohol also interferes with the quality of your sleep. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation,” drinking more than two servings of alcohol per day for men and one serving per day for women can decrease sleep quality by 39.2%.”

Tip #6: Get a medical evaluation

If you are still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep after adopting a new sleep hygiene routine and following the other above tips, it may be time to see a medical provider. Certain medical conditions, like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), could be the reason why you’re having poor sleep. OSA is a common medical condition that can sabotage your sleep quality, and it can also increase your risk of developing other chronic illnesses. You may be more likely to suffer from OSA if you snore, or if your sleeping partner reports that you have sudden starts and stops in your breathing patterns while sleeping. You are also more likely to experience sleep apnea if you’ve gained weight. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, increasing your body weight by 10% can make it 6 times more likely that you will develop sleep apnea.

How to learn more about sleep hygiene

When you can’t sleep well, it can have a highly negative impact on your overall well-being. However, there are a lot of things that you can do to help manage your sleep. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our family medicine and internal medicine providers are skilled at helping patients get better sleep, including creating personalized treatment plans to help them get back on track. They can also make recommendations about sleep studies which can help diagnose certain sleep conditions like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

To make an appointment for a sleep consult, or to be screened for a sleep condition, contact us today.