Just One Thing To Do This Week: Sleep Better

By MARY BETH MAASSEN
Los Alamos

I can think of very few things that are more rewarding than a deep, undisturbed, restful night’s sleep. The kind of profound slumber where you lay your head on the pillow, fall instantly to sleep and wake up eight hours later filled with energy and ready for the day.

There is nothing worse than tossing and turning all night, looking at the alarm clock every 10 minutes, counting down the amount of sleep you are NOT getting and wondering how you are going to make it through the day.

Research, as well as our own life experience, tells us that inadequate sleep affects our mood and our metabolism, the ability to learn and remember information, and it affects our judgment, which can increase the chance of accidents and injury. I know when I am tired my balance is whacked-out too. Chronic sleep issues can contribute to a plethora of health problems including cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, memory problems, as well as depression. At a minimum, you walk around always feeling exhausted and uninspired. Yuck.

One of the worse nights I ever had was many, many years ago when I had three kids under the age of four. The new baby was nursing every three hours. The two-year old was wheezy with RSV and I got out of bed to take him into a steamy shower three different times during the night. At 5 a.m. the four-year old poked me awake and asked for French toast. When I became teary, my then-husband woke up, looked at me and said, “I am having an affair and my girlfriend is pregnant.” (This is a completely true story).

As you might guess things got much, much worse before they got better, but I often wonder how life might have turned out differently if I had just slept through that particular night. I do know that I value few things more than a good night’s sleep. I am sure you understand.

As we continue this weekly journey for health and a fulfilling, productive life it is clear that sleeping well is a critical component to individual happiness as well as the happiness of those around you (because when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy). You should plan for eight hours of sleep every night. Some people need a little more, some a little less.

Let’s review what we can do to improve our sleep.

  • During the day get fresh outdoor air and some exercise. Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet (I know we have discussed this before) and choose fresh and healthy foods. Keep your alcohol intake to single glass (sugar intake reduction hint: straight tequila of good quality has virtually no sugar, but margarita mixes can have anywhere from 30 to 80 grams of sugar. If you use LaCroix soda with lime mixed with just a splash a margarita mixer, you can enjoy the marvelous margarita experience with only a fraction of the sugar and calories).
  • Develop an evening routine. Turn the TV and other electronic devices off two hours before bed. Go to bed at the same time every night. Take time to wind-down after dinner and clear your mind. Think about developing rituals that send the message to your body that it is getting close to bed time. Brush your teeth. Take a bath or shower. Read a bit. Pray or meditate.Physically slow down and move with thoughtful purpose.
  • Make sure the room is dark, quiet and cool. Lights, even from your alarm clock or electronic devices, can be disruptive. Use white noise to block out street and neighborhood sounds. At our house we use white noise to block the coyotes howl. Once the coyotes start our own dogs join in the song and no one can sleep through that!
  • Lay back on your pillow, close your eyes and breathe deeply 10 times to put yourself in a state of relaxation. Take a breath in through your nose, making your belly rise as you fill your lungs. Release the air out through your nose, letting go of all negative and disruptive energy of the day.

There are a number of apps that can help you relax with guided imagery and meditation. Some of the ones I use are Calm, or Relax and Sleep Well by Glenn Harrold, or Sleep. There are lots of other free or inexpensive apps available. Using a headset makes a difference.

If your sleep is disturbed by hot flashes, someone who snores, or children who don’t easily go to bed and stay asleep, or dogs that routinely wake you up to be let out, you have my sympathy, because at some time in the past I have faced all of these challenges. Except for the dog issues – and I am still trying to effectively manage that.

Hot flashes can often be managed by using the techniques listed above, but your physician may have additional recommendations. Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, and those who snore should see their doctor to determine if they are a candidate for a sleep study. Young children who seemingly “don’t need much sleep” can be absolutely exhausting to manage. If you approach it with loving determination, children can benefit from the same recommendations listed above. You just have to practice every night. The guided mediations can be very helpful after bedtime stories are over. Regarding dogs … I am looking for your ideas on that one!

There are lots of suggestions here, but this week, just choose one that seems the most do-able and incorporate it into your life and see if helps to improve your sleep. As for my one thing, I am going to turn off the TV two hours before bed and see if that helps to settle my mind.

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