8 Healthy sleep habits
Focused on Health - October 2013
By Brittany Cordeiro
Plagued by restless nights? You’re not alone. Nearly 62% of American adults experience a sleep problem a few nights each week, says the National Sleep Foundation.
“Sleep deprivation negatively affects your health and quality of life,” says Diwakar Balachandran, M.D., medical director in the MD Anderson Sleep Center. It can cause moodiness, memory troubles, and problems thinking and focusing. Chronic sleep loss may lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
Several studies also show that chronic poor sleepers may be at a higher risk of developing cancer and dying from the disease, Balachandran says. Examples include long-haul flight attendants, who often sleep at different times during the day and in different time zones, and shift work nurses after years of changing sleep schedules to accommodate work shifts.
“Researchers are trying to learn more about the cancer and sleep connection. Until more is known, we need to give sleep the priority it deserves,” Balachandran says.
To find out if you’re getting adequate sleep, gauge how you feel during the day. “You should feel rested, prepared for the day and able to function well – not sleepy or groggy,” Balachandran says. Most adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
If you have trouble sleeping, check your sleep hygiene. A healthy lifestyle and simple behavior changes can help you get a good night’s rest.
Balachandran suggests ways to get better sleep.
- Set a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.
- Create regular bedtime rituals. Do the same thing every night before bedtime, like take a warm bath, read or listen to music. Your pre-sleep activity should be relaxing so your body knows when it’s time to go to sleep.
- Get regular exercise. Make sure you exercise at least two hours before bedtime though, or it may be difficult to fall asleep.
- Keep a healthy diet. Meals just before bedtime may make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. But, a small snack just before bedtime tends to promote sleep.
- Limit caffeine and avoid nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that interfere with sleep. Regular users also may experience withdrawal symptoms at night, leading to restless sleep. Limit caffeine intake to less than two servings per day, and don’t drink after noon. Tobacco users who break the habit usually are able to fall asleep faster and sleep better once withdrawal symptoms subside.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a sedative that slows brain activity. While it may induce sleep, it interferes with sleep during the night, causing you to wake up frequently and have nightmares. It’s best to not drink alcohol four to six hours before bedtime.
- Keep naps short. During the day, you build up a “sleep debt” that helps you fall asleep at night. Naps during the day pay off that debt, interfering with your night sleep. If you need to nap, limit it to less than 30 minutes.
- Use your bedroom for sleep only. Don’t eat or watch TV in bed. Don’t use electronics – laptops, cellphones or tablets – in bed. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. If you use it only for sleep, you’ll associate your bedroom with sleeping rather than activity or stress.
“We can’t live or function without sleep – it enables us to accomplish the things we want to in life,” Balachandran says. So, start paying attention to your sleep. Make sure you’re getting the rest you need to stay healthy and fight off diseases like cancer.