All I want for Christmas is a good night’s rest

“Dear Santa, please land quietly on the roof and tiptoe through he living room because research indicates that I need at least seven hours of sleep to function well tomorrow.”

Who hasn’t thought that they need more sleep? How many people wish they could fall asleep more easily? Sleep disturbance, debt, and deprivation are all too common among Americans. Chronic sleep problems affect 10 to 18 percent of adults in the general population. Research indicates that chronic sleep disturbances can lead to emotional vulnerability and negative thinking. Conversely, those who are well rested display higher levels of emotional and mental resilience.

Sleep experts recommend that the average adult sleep at least seven to eight hours per night. The amount of sleep is deemed adequate when there is no daytime sleepiness or dysfunction.  During a time of year often filled with to-do lists, late nights, multiple obligations, financial stress, and family pressures, it is important to make time for sleep. When possible, treating or addressing sleep problems can help alleviate symptoms such as fatigue, cognitive confusion, low energy, memory loss, slow reflex response, irritability, and emotional fragility. Fortunately, there are many strategies to improve the amount and quality of sleep:

  1. Good nutrition and exercise – Do not eat large meals at night, as digestion and/or indigestion might interfere with sleep. Avoid drinking too much liquid in the evening to reduce frequent waking to urinate. Exercise regularly in the morning or early afternoons.
  2. Limited exposure to screens – Televisions and computers stimulate the brain rather than relaxing it. The content and light are disruptive to your body’s clock that is trying to signal sleep.
  3. Limited or no drug use – Consider reducing if, when, and how much alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine you consume. Decrease the amount of and/or consume caffeine before lunch. Avoid alcohol before bed. Quit smoking as it is a stimulant and nightly withdrawal results in sleep disruption.
  4. Keep a consistent sleep schedule – Maintain a regular bedtime and wakeup at the same time each day. If you need a nap, then nap for thirty minutes early in the day to insure that you can fall asleep at night.
  5. Make your bedroom a sleep friendly environment – Keep noise low and room temperature cool. Make sure that the room is dark, even dim lights can affect circadian rhythms. Ensure that your pillow, mattress, and bedding are comfortable. Some companies sell specialty pillows and mattresses (a.k.a. sleep aids) to assist in body posture or relieve pain while sleeping. Use your bed only for sleep and sex (powerful cue to body that beds are for sleeping).
  6. Reduce stress and anxiety – Practice relaxation (meditation, yoga, prayer, and visualizations). Engage in a quiet, non-stimulating activity such as light stretching, listening to an audio book or soft music, eating a light snack, or drinking herbal tea. Write down any anxieties or lists of things to do so that your mind can “mentally rest” prior to bedtime. Consider seeing a mental health counselor.
  7. Know when to see a sleep specialist – If you have tried the above strategies but are still not able to get adequate sleep, consider seeing a sleep specialist for a sleep consultation.