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Sleep Hygiene Part 1
As a resident, fellow and attending you take a call, stay up for many hours in a row (38 is my record). Our medical culture is built on bragging about lack of sleep and I am sure your job has a similar culture. Finding my way back to normal has been quite an adventure. Let me tell you some tips I found useful in your journey, as well as other natural remedies.
Step 1 How Much?
Remember as a teenager how you would sleep all day long??? Well, that is because you needed it for growth and development, along with the removal of wastes in your brain (above). As we age, there is a natural shift toward less restful (stage 3) sleep, but with proper lifestyle changes perhaps you can delay these effects.
Our ancestors would rise with the sun and sleep when the sun went down. Our modern work or school-life has forced us to alter our sleep in an unnatural way just to watch that last episode of a show, or just see our family. Sometimes going to the gym interferes with sleep because there just aren’t any extra hours in the day.
Honestly why go to the gym if sleep is pinnacle to recovery, hormonal balance and the health of your brain. Don’t slip in that extra work out if you haven’t slept enough hours. The gains will be less than if you get a good night’s rest. We already discussed why sleep is needed, so let’s sleep already!
The average American sleeps at or under 6 hours nightly, but honestly, about 7-9 (4-6 cycles of 90 minutes) is needed to take care of each important job sleep holds for your health. The first and most important step toward sleep hygiene is to GO TO BED!
Sleeping the right amount is not only vital to your hormonal balance, stress relief, processing of waste products and thoughts, but it is also important to longevity. Individuals that are in sleep deficit die earlier and have a higher risk for metabolic disease (diabetes, heart disease, etc.).
If you have earned yourself a sleep debt, just like monetary debt, come up with a plan and GET OUT OF IT! You may not get out of it in a day, week or month, but if you plan, you will get out of it. Make a plan, consider sleep tracking and stick to it to STAY OUT OF DEBT!
Step 2 Dream your Best Dream
So, you’ve made a pact with yourself to sleep 7-9 hours a night, but you just can’t FALL asleep. Or you can’t STAY asleep. I know, I have been there.
Nighttime awakening because you are worried about your patient, or about a relationship issue, thinking of a loved one, are all logical things to have in your mind. However, sleeping is really a great way to process them. In order to use your natural method for processing thoughts, you have to backtrack and improve the surrounding circumstances around your habits.
Temperature is vital to sleep. In particular cooler temperatures. Sleeping in the heat though you think maybe more comfortable consciously, may interfere with your sleep quality. Turn the thermostat and turn it down somewhere from 60-68 Fahrenheit. Can’t move the thermostat because of your partner?? Time for them to wear more clothes to bed, bummer I know. Another option is to consider a sleeping pad the controls the temperature of the sleep zone without impacting your partner.
LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
The bedroom is for two things, sleeping and sex! What does your pre-bedtime routine look like? Does it involve a device? If so, you may not realize it, but your sleep is suffering from binging that streaming show.
There are two basic types of light that impact sleep, blue light, and orange light. Orange light or natural light has a limited impact on your sleep quality. However, once all light is eliminated your body will begin to release melatonin from the pineal gland, forming your circadian rhythm. Blue light, however, will greatly impede your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Guess where blue light lives??? Yeah, that device you are reading right now!
Firstly, turn the lights off before bed. If you still have additional light sources around, eliminate them or turn them off. Leave the device at the door! Unplug! Stop watching that show! Don’t play on your damn phone in bed! Instead read a book, yeah…a real book with an orange light source. Can’t drop the device, use a blue-light blocking setting on your phone (most have it now), blue light blocking the screen or wear blue light blocking glasses. Trust me, it works!
Waking up in the middle of the night with thoughts racing through your head? Can’t get back to sleep? I am certain the root cause is anxiety.
That’s right…I said it…I named it. Do not be ashamed, you are not alone.
Millions of Americans have anxiety due to traumas they experience each and every day and well, every night. Whether they be historical, childhood, occupational, etc there is no issue without validity if it is affecting you.
I cannot supplant the value of seeing professional help. If you need someone to talk to, please seek a licensed professional who can assist you with limiting your anxiety. If you want general things to limit your anxiety prior to bed I suggest all of the above and below (alcohol, I see you).
Journaling or writing your thoughts out prior to bed may be a good way to flush out those hidden issues. Just 15 minutes prior to bed is adequate and you may find a connection between your dreams and your journaling.
I also recommend mindfulness training, which includes yoga, meditation, unplugging, limiting sensory input prior to bedtime. The benefit will pay off not only in your sleep but also in all aspects of your life.