Is the state of the world keeping you up at night? You’re not alone. Recent studies have found an increase in people who are reporting trouble falling and staying asleep. In fact, about 40% of the general population reports problems getting a solid night’s worth of sleep.
Stress, changes in schedule, increased screen time, and decreased exposure to sunlight all contribute to sleep disruption. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep can result in more than just being tired the next day. Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, weight gain, and a lowered immune system. The last thing anyone wants these days is a lowered immune system. Fortunately, there are proven methods to help you sleep soundly and effectively—without medication.
Our body temperature fluctuates during the day. But, at night, it starts to lower, signaling to our bodies that it's time for sleep. Setting your bedroom temperature to between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit can put your body on the path to a good night's sleep.
Seriously. Put. It. Down. Stimulating our brains with news and entertainment is the last thing we need before bed. Also, our devices emit a blue light, which has been shown to interfere with our ability to fall asleep as well as the quality of our sleep. It may be difficult, but try putting your device in another room an hour before bed. If you must use a device to read, for example, switch the setting to "nighttime mode."
With so many of us working from home, we often don't get outside at all during the day. It's crucial to expose your body to natural light in the morning for our circadian rhythm (aka our internal sleep clock) to function properly. Natural morning light exposure, even if it's not sunny, leads to nighttime sleepiness. Plus, the fresh air can only help.
Exercising has numerous benefits for our health, including helping you sleep better. For one, exercise reduces stress, which can impact our sleep. Furthermore, research shows that exercise increases the amount of deep sleep you get. It's best to exercise earlier in the day, or at least not too close to bedtime.
With most of our schedules in general in disarray since the pandemic, it's no surprise that our sleep patterns have been disrupted. To the best of your ability, try to get back on a regular schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time helps your body recognize a pattern so that it knows when it's time for sleep. Having your meals at the same time each day and taking breaks for exercise and mental rest is also part of establishing a healthy routine.
While it may sound like an easy fix: drink coffee to stay alert and enjoy a glass of wine, or two, to help wind down, these beverages can impact your ability to fall and stay asleep. That's not to say that you can't enjoy either in moderation. Just be conscious of how much and when you consume them. Caffeine, being a stimulant, should be halted in the afternoon, and alcohol, which can have sedating effects, can interfere with your sleep quality and quantity. Stick to a cocktail before dinner or a glass of wine with it—but not both.
If sleep is a problem, you need to commit to fixing that problem. In addition to the above tips, you should create an environment that helps promote sleep. That means turning your bedroom into a cool, dark, and quiet room that's reserved for rest. If you're working from home these days, try to find a workspace other than your bedroom. If that's not possible, don't bring your computer to bed. It's important that your body and brain associate your bed with sleep—and sex—only.
Occasionally there are medical conditions that can impact a person’s sleep, one of which is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is estimated to occur in up to 26% of the United States population and can impact a person’s quality of sleep. Certain risk factors such as excess weight, neck circumference, anatomical problems with the upper airway, certain underlying medical conditions, and alcohol and substance abuse may increase a person’s risk of this condition. It is also more common in males.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, episodes in which a person momentarily stops breathing during sleep (often reported by a partner), gasping for air during sleep, awakening with a dry mouth or a headache, difficulty staying asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness and trouble paying attention while awake, falling asleep during routine activities such as reading, watching TV, or even driving, and irritability. Unfortunately, this condition is also associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes so if you or a loved one thinks they have sleep apnea we recommend that you contact your primary care provider for further evaluation and possible referral to a sleep medicine specialist.
If your provider believes a sleep disturbance is due to an underlying medical problem they may also recommend testing for other medical conditions that can lead to sleep disturbances such as thyroid disease and hormonal imbalances.