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5 Steps for a Good Night's Sleep

Dan Hammer

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Let me see if this accurately describes how you slept last night. You’re exhausted from a long day of work. During the last 16 hours you’ve dealt with:

  • The morning rush hour to work.
  • The mental and physical stresses at work.
  • The return trip back home hoping for sanctuary only to be confronted with the physical and emotional challenges of managing a household.

    All the while your mind is going through the mental gymnastics of what you still need to finish today while getting prepared for the events in tomorrow’s schedule. The news is over, it’s bedtime, you need a good night’s sleep, and you say to yourself, “Please Lord, just one good night’s sleep!" So you turn off the lights, get into bed, and lay your head down on the pillow only to lie awake. All of a sudden that distressing wave of anxiety that has become your constant nighttime companion says to you, “We’ve got to get some sleep or we’ll never function tomorrow!" Finally, just before the alarm clock goes off, you fall asleep only to be awoken by the constant buzz of the alarm reminding you that you’re exhausted but work and family commitments won’t allow you to stay in bed. You drag yourself into the shower, pump your body with caffeine, get dressed and repeat the days’ events all over again.

    “Nah’ Dan, I just lay my head down and I’m out like a light until that alarm goes off!"

    Men and Women and Sleep!
    The little scenario above has two different sleep outcomes, and if I were sitting next to you as you read them, 75% of the men would agree with the last statement in quotes and 75% of the women would relate to the bullet points and paragraph. According to a recent National Sleep Foundation survey, 75% of women between the ages of 30 and 60 do not get eight or more hours of sleep. They get approximately 6 ½ hours of sleep per night during the workweek. This also applies to older women. Again, in a poll sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation, older women reported more often than older men that the quality of their sleep had declined over the past ten years of their life.

    Sleep Loss Affects All Aspects of Your Life!
    The amount of sleep you get can have a direct affect on your health. Here are some statistics to confirm this last statement:

  • Research shows that sleep deprivation may increase blood pressure. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine correlated chronic sleep loss with an increased risk of heart disease. Specifically, women between the ages of 45 and 65 who slept an average of five hours or less per night were 39% more likely to have heart problems than women who slept eight hours per night.

  • Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association has suggested that sleep loss increases hunger while decreasing the body’s metabolism. That is not a winning combination for weight management or weight loss but is a recipe for weight gain.

  • It has been shown that sleep loss also interferes with the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates resulting in high levels of blood glucose. This, in turn, promotes the overproduction of insulin which could play a significant role in adult-onset diabetes.

  • A recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that 51% of women say that their sleep problems affect their ability to perform daily activities, 46% reported interference with carrying out household duties, 27% reported interference with their job performance, and a significantly large percentage (66%) felt that lack of sleep caused problems with family relationships.

  • Lack of sleep can decrease the effectiveness of your immune system and lead to premature aging.

    Proper Sleep Can Be A Complex Problem!
    Getting a good night of deep, restful sleep is important. Not just for you but also for all the people around you. Many people are resorting to over-the-counter medications, as well as prescriptions from their physicians, to help aid them in their search for meaningful sleep. It’s important to remember that every drug you put into your body has an affect on the health of your liver which, in turn, has an overall affect on your wellness and aging. If you haven’t gone the medication route to help with your sleep, then you might want to try the following steps to aid you in a good night’s sleep. If you’re on medication, then certainly continue unless you and your doctor feel that it is time to reduce your dependence on the medication and help you find a natural solution for achieving restful, deep sleep.

    5 Natural Steps to Deeper, More Restful Sleep!
    These are steps you can take to help you achieve your goal of a better night’s sleep. My suggestion is to read each step and then decide which one best fits for you. Don’t try all of them but start with one step and then add a second step if it doesn’t give you the kind of sleep you’re looking for. Unlike medication, none of these steps will interfere with each other but it is always best to start with just one. Whichever one you decide to start with, give it a good week to evaluate the results.

    Step 1 – Your Partner!
    If you’re single and live alone then this step won’t apply to you unless your dog or cat is sharing your bed. If they’re keeping you awake at night, then it’s time to find them their own soft cushion and place on the floor or in another room. Now, if it’s your sleep partner who snores, tosses and turns, repeatedly gets up and goes to the bathroom, talks in their sleep or does all of the above, it might be a little hard to get them to sleep on the floor. And, even if you did convince them to do so, the sound of snoring would still keep you awake. An easy suggestion for those who snore would be to get them to use “Breathe Rite Strips!" Seriously! They do work since a lot of people have slightly swollen nasal passages and these strips help to open up the passages so that better air flow can be achieved. My wife can vouch for this. Although I wasn’t a snorer I was a very heavy breather at night because of my allergies. Until I found a natural product that eliminated my allergy symptoms, I used the “Breathe Rite Strips" and it made a significant difference for both of us.

    Maybe there are more serious underlying sleep disorder problems for your partner that would require a sleep expert to help them get a handle on some of their sleep issues. Maybe you might have to implement the extreme version of Ozzie and Harriet and actually sleep in separate rooms. It’s only for sleep purposes. You can always get together. In fact, it might be kind of romantic that way: “Hey fella, you want to come to my room tonight?!"

    Step 2 – Turn Off The News!
    Instead of taking the last 30 minutes of your day and adding to your stress
    by listening to news stories about all the violence in the world or how you’re going to have to deal with weather problems for your morning commute or how your favorite team lost a big game in the final minutes, why not do something to help you relax. Maybe it’s reading a book or meditating, praying or knitting, spending time on a hobby or soaking in a nice warm bath. Use the last 30 minutes of your day to unwind not keep yourself wound up. When you’re feeling tired enough to go to sleep then hit the sack.

    Step 3 – Reestablish the Sleep Environment!
    There’s a lot that could be done in this step like:

  • Get a new pillow! When your pillow starts to smell like you it’s time to get a new one. All the allergens contained in and on your pillow could be your problem. There are a lot of pillows to choose from so be willing to invest in a good pillow that supports your sleep comfort.

  • Block out noise! If you live in a creaky house that makes sounds at night or live next to a fire house or along a busy highway, then you might want to add some “white noise" to the background. It could be from a fan to circulate the air in the room or a little waterfall that gives you the tinkling sound of running water. Maybe you enjoy the peaceful sounds of the ocean or the wind through the leaves or the sound of the tall grasses on the prairie. There are CDs available that can provide you with this background noise. Just play it low enough to hear and allow your mind to take you to that relaxing spot where the stresses of life melt away. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! Sorry, I dozed off for a second.

  • Reduce the light! This isn’t just for your eyes. Light also affects the way your brain produces the hormones that regulate your sleep cycle. For some people even a minimal amount of light can disrupt their sleep.

  • Adjust the room temperature! A room that is too hot or too cold will usually affect your sleep. Adjust the thermostat, open or close a window, add or take off clothes, and adjusting your bedding can all help. If you like it cold and your partner likes it warm, then adjust your half of the bed to reach your comfort level.

  • Move the clock! Not only can the light from the clock affect your sleep but if you’re already anxious, staring at the time on your clock is not going to help.

  • Adjust your bed! Maybe it’s time to get a new mattress as well as a new pillow. They now make beds that allow you to adjust your sleep comfort on your half of the bed. This can take pressure off of the pressure points to help to reduce your stiffness or soreness.

    Step 4 – Avoid the Following!
    Some activities done too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep like:

  • Caffeine – Avoid caffeinated drinks and foods because they can delay your sleep as well as cause you to wake up in the night. If you consume them, then ideally try to stop taking anymore after 12 noon and certainly don’t consume any at least 3 hours before bedtime.

  • Smoking – Nicotine is a stimulant so try to avoid smoking at least 6 hours before your bedtime. Plus, smoking affects your liver which can compound your overall health and add to your sleeping disorder.

  • Exercise – This is not an excuse to stop exercising just avoid exercising within 3 hours of bedtime. Many people find exercising in the morning, afternoon and early evening helps them sleep better at night.

  • Alcohol – Avoid excessive alcohol since it can disrupt your normal sleep patterns during the second half of the night.

  • Liquids – Avoid large quantities of fluids just before bedtime. This will help decrease your chances of waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

    Step 5 – Try the Following Foods for a Good Night’s Sleep!
    The following foods can relax tense muscles, quiet your overly active mind, and provide your body with the sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin:

  • Bananas – Ever wonder why in the afternoon after you’ve eaten your banana, you have a hard time staying awake? People have labeled the banana the “sleeping pill in a peel. " Bananas contain melatonin and serotonin as well as magnesium which can act as a muscle relaxant.

  • Chamomile Tea – Warm chamomile tea provides a mild sedating effect to help calm a restless mind and body. And, it’s almost calorie free!

  • Warm Milk – Yes, mom was right about this. Milk has some tryptophan which is an amino acid that has a sedative-like effect. Plus, the calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan more effectively. Just make it skim milk to save on fat calories.

  • Honey – Lots of sugar is a stimulate but a little honey drizzled in your warm milk or herb tea provides just enough glucose to tell your brain to turn off orexin, a recently discovered neurotransmitter that appears to be linked to alertness.

  • Oatmeal – Oats are a rich source of melatonin so a small bowl of warm oatmeal with a splash of honey or maple syrup will warm your tummy, take the edge of your late-night hunger and leave you feeling warm and cozy.

  • Almonds – You only need a small handful since these heart-healthy nuts contain both typtophan and that nice muscle-relaxing mineral magnesium.

  • Turkey and Whole-Wheat Bread – Yes, turkey is famous for tryptophan but when overstuffed with tons of protein, tryptophan doesn’t make you sleepy. All the blood in your abdominal cavity, instead of your brain, trying to digest your Thanksgiving meal puts you to sleep. But, if you take a lean slice of turkey on one slice of whole-wheat bread, fold it in half for a mid-evening snack, then you’ve just created a sleep inducer.

    I hope this information helps you like it has helped so many others. It’s not going to solve everyone’s sleep issues but it can have a profound effect for many. And, for those who are still unable to get a good night’s sleep than it’s time to see a sleep specialist who can help you develop a plan to bring those much needed “ZZZZZZZZZZZ" into your life.

    Dan Hammer has a background in biology, chemistry and exercise physiology. He used to run one of the largest health club operations in the Chicagoland area and has been helping people with their wellness issues for more than 25 years. His website provides current information on how to slow down the aging process. He offers a free daily email that breaks this information down into actionable steps that are easy to understand and implement.

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