How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” – Irish Proverb

There has been a lot written lately about sleep, or actually, the lack of it.  Most of what I have read in blog postings center around hilarious middle-of-the-night wake-ups because of ill or restless children.

My theory is that sleeplessness results in an awakening of some inner sense of humor that serves as the coping mechanism for the inability to sleep while kids need attention.  While I totally enjoy the read, there is nothing funny about the underlying reason.

I have read about teens who actually need more than eight hours of sleep, but seem to get far less.  So when they say they can’t get out of bed for school because they are too tired, they probably are. Lastly, how much sleep does a woman over the age of 70 years really need, and what kind of games is her body playing on her that makes her awaken after a few hours?  I went searching for some answers.

To get the info for this post, of course I went to the National Sleep Foundation’s website as well as the National Institute of Health (NIH) for content on sleep.

Here are some facts that I learned about sleeping.  Some you may already know and others you may find surprising:

1. Sleeping is NOT a passive activity. 

Sleeping is as important to our well-being as eating.  Animals need sleep to survive.  It impacts our nerve-signaling chemicals or neurotransmitters, our psychological and physical health, and how we metabolize food.

2. “Fatigue is the best pillow.” – Benjamin Franklin 

There is NO one amount of sleep that everyone needs.  Each person is different, so no matter how old or young, each individual has his/her own sleep needs.  For example, I have a colleague who requires very little sleep.  While up at two a.m., she isn’t watching cooking shows or reruns of Sex in the City, she works and creates.  As a result, I used to get emails from her timed at all kinds of sleeping hours.  When awake, she always seemed chipper and energetic.  Not me, if I was awake at two a.m. I would watch Two Fat Ladies and if really fortunate, reruns of Andy Griffin, and then be one fat b*tch in the morning.

3. The majority of teens don’t get enough sleep.

Teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough). Most teens do not get enough sleep – one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights. Another issue with teens is that their sleep patterns are irregular, as their weekend patterns usually differ from school days and their school sleeping patterns differ depending on what is going on.  For example, less sleep may happen when studying for a test or participating in sports that require early practice.  As a result, it impacts their ability to concentrate, remember things, and listen.  Not ideal when education is the key part of their life.

4. The consequences of not getting enough sleep are real and can result in physical or psychological issues. 

Not getting enough sleep can result in acne or other skin problems in teens.  It can also lead to aggressive or other inappropriate behaviors.  Importantly, no matter the age, people who don’t get enough sleep are heavier than those that do.  That may be because they are eating too much high fat food and not metabolizing it well.  Also, not getting enough sleep can lead to driving accidents, as well as accidents because equipment is not being used safely.

5. Sleep needs DON’T decline with age.  

While aging doesn’t decrease the amount of sleep needed, aging messes up our sleep habits.  GREAT!  So while older adults are awakening more throughout the night and taking longer to fall asleep, they are also suffering more from sleep apnea and from a decline in their important REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  The Mayo Clinic defines sleep apnea as, “a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts”.  Everyone needs a certain period of time for REM sleep in order to have a complete sleep cycle.  Altering that changes ones sleep pattern negatively.  Some causes of sleep problems in adults are: GERD, due to the pain of esophageal reflux; restless leg syndrome; too much caffeine, and the urge to urinate.

So what to do?

First, let’s look at how much sleep we need a night.  According the NIH, “infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as five hours or as many as ten hours of sleep each day. Women in the first three months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual.”

The RELAXation Method for falling asleep:

Say to yourself, you are getting sleepy, you are getting sleepy…(only kidding).  Actually, Beinggirl.com recommends the following – When you get to bed, close your eyes and get comfy. Focus your attention on the parts of your body that feel uncomfortable. Take a deep breath, and as you breathe out, focus on relaxing each of those areas, one at a time. Take two deep breaths for every body part that you relax. Continue this deep and relaxed breathing. Deep breathing should help you sleep better.

Once your body is relaxed, clear your mind by focusing on pictures of numbers or letters. For example, picture the number 30 in your mind. Imagine that the number 30 is getting blown away by the wind, erased by a pencil eraser, or fades into invisibility. Then picture the number 29 appearing in a different color, size, shape, and handwriting than the number 30. Once you have the image in your mind, imagine the 29 getting erased in a different way. Continue picturing each number with lots of details, and imagining each one disappears until you get to the number one. If you don’t fall asleep before you get to the number one, your mind will be free of stressful thoughts and you will be able to sleep better.

Tips to Help Improve Your Sleep Patterns:

  • Eat earlier and lighter.
  • Take a short walk after a late meal or a very active evening to help you unwind
  • Train your mind:  Keep to a regular sleep schedule, going to sleep at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every day. Get at least eight hours of sleep a night and eight to ten hours of sleep if you are a teen and can. After a few weeks, you will start feeling sleepy at bedtime and will be awake and ready to go before your alarm clock.
  • No matter what is going on in the rest of your house, create a tranquil, comforting environment in your bedroom.  Turn on some soothing sounds and spray your sheets and room with lavender. If you need it totally dark to get your proper rest, try a sleep mask or scented eye pillow.
  • Indulging in relaxing activities before bedtime can help too. Take a warm (not hot) bath or listen to soothing music.  Some people fall asleep reading.
  • Keeping temperatures above 74 or below 54 degrees Fahrenheit can impact sleep.  Everyone is different, but most scientists agree that sleeping in a cooler room is better for sleep and a hot room can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Light and dark influence when we get sleepy, think night and day.  Bright light can keep you awake so turn them down!!
  • Give yourself enough space to sleep.  If you are sleeping with someone, make sure you have enough room to move around and not wake the other person – or be woken up yourself due to someone else’s restlessness.

Do you get a good sleep at night?  If so, any other tips to offer?

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