Having trouble getting to sleep? If and when you do finally nod off, do you wind up having a fitful, choppy slumber broken up by bathroom trips, glances at the alarm clock, and other external and internal distractions?
If it’s any comfort as you toss and turn, valiantly trying to get comfortable so you can (finally) get some quality sleep, it turns out you’re not alone. Far from it, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC).
As America’s watchdog established to keep citizens free from health, safety and security threats around the clock, the CDC has acknowledged that insufficient sleep is an important public health problem. Not only does it impair our ability to function at work and home, it may contribute to increased motor vehicle accidents and job-related errors. It doesn’t do wonders for our moods or relationships either.
What’s even more alarming is that people who aren’t getting their recommended number of zzz’s each night may have a greater propensity for diabetes, depression, obesity, hypertension and other mental and physical concerns.
Suffice it to say that quality slumber is critical for your quality of life. But many people either don’t know how to do so – or unwittingly sabotage themselves by their sleep-sapping behaviors.
By simply making small lifestyle changes, you may reap significant sleep and health benefits.
Step 1: Prepare your sleep sanctuary
We’re genetically programmed to operate on a circadian cycle, and we tend to function best when we go to sleep at sunset and get up at sunrise. To do so effectively, we need to set the right stage. Make the room as dark as dark as possible by installing black-out blinds and eliminating extraneous light from alarm clocks, cell phone and computer monitors. Nod off on comfortable cotton sheets and a mattress suited to your individual sleep preferences. And ensure that silence is golden by eliminating background noise from clocks, TVs and other electronic devices.
Step 2: Watch what you eat
This applies most to what you put in your body a few hours before you put your head on your pillow. Avoid carbohydrates, particularly those from refined sugars and processed foods, as they increase our sugar levels, which triggers insulin production and hence blood sugar level drop in the middle of the night. Instead, think natural – fresh fruits (especially tart cherries, thanks to their high melatonin content), vegetables, nuts, seeds and omega-3-rich cold water fish. And it’s just common sense that you don’t want to wolf down a spicy or heavy meal right before bedtime – unless you’re asking for indigestion, vivid dreams and compromised sleep.
Step 3: De-toxify your lifestyle
Addictive habits such smoking, drinking and recreational drug use have health ramifications well beyond the quality of your slumber. Alcohol, even though it initially has a sedative-like effect, winds up waking you back up again, disrupting your sleep cycle. Smoking isn’t any better, as the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen available in the blood. And don’t even get us started on recreational drugs. And do not forget about caffeine — avoid it if possible.
Step 4: Exercise restraint
There’s no disputing that physical activity – especially from a consistent regimen that includes cardiovascular exercise, strength training and stretching – is necessary for a healthy body and clear mind. But right before bed is not the time to bench press, hop on the elliptical machine, hit the punching bag or pop in a fitness DVD. Schedule your workouts for earlier in the day so you can reserve that critical pre-slumber window for winding down and relaxing.
Sergey Kalitenko MD is a holistic practitioner, Board Certified in Internal Medicine. He has two practices located in Great Neck, Long Island and Brooklyn. Dr. Kalitenko opened his private practice in 2001. His medical practice is based on the principles of holistic, functional medicine as well as age management principles. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is a keystone of his practice. He is firmly committed to finding natural solutions to health problems—and his first step is to use his expert diagnostic skills to get to the root of the problem. Dr. Kalitenko’s philosophy is that of wellness, not illness. For more information go to www.kalitenko.com.