Vol.1, No.4

How to get better sleep

Getting a better night's rest may involve changes in your daily routine or diet. Here are some tips for falling asleep faster and awakening more rested.

Better sleep
Photo Credit: Andrzej Burak
Most people find a way to lie in a bed for eight hours, but some find it difficult to actually get quality sleep during that time. Conventional wisdom suggests a minimum of 7 or 8 hours of good sleep a night for maximum wakefulness in the morning. It's not uncommon, however, to only get 4 or 5 hours of quality sleep due to an inability to fall into a deep sleep.

If you suffer from insomnia or the effects of sleep deprivation, here are some tips to help you get a better night's sleep:

1. Stop watching television or playing video games at least an hour before bedtime. Your mind needs time to adjust from the frenetic images and sounds of television to the calming influences of the bedroom. Reading a few chapters in a book, listening to soothing music or having a pleasant conversation are preferable to shifting suddenly from a high stimulus to dead silence.

2. Try not to eat spicy or heavy foods just before going to sleep. Digestion of food slows down considerably while sleeping, but gases still form. Many people are awakened in the middle of the night by the effects of acid reflux or a bloated stomach. Time spent treating the problem medically is time spent not sleeping. Getting back to sleep after a bout of indigestion can be very difficult. Try taking an antacid medication before going to bed on a full stomach.

Eating within two hours of bedtime is not a good habit in general. Substitute a late night snack for warm milk or decaffeinated tea.

3. Listen to your body's cycle, not necessarily the clock. Lying restless in bed as the hours tick away is no way to get meaningful sleep. If you aren't tired at your prescribed bedtime, wait until you are definitely showing signs of sleepiness before getting into bed. Many people who work unusual hours or swing shifts find they get more meaningful sleep by taking shorter naps when tired. Others adjust their sleeping hours over time to eventually match an ideal schedule.

4. Take sleep aids at the right time. Some people find it easier to get quality sleep after taking a drowsiness medication. The problem is that the pills must be taken at a certain time in order to be effective, generally an hour before bedtime. Taking sleeping pills right before bedtime can still result in a few hours of restlessness until the medication takes effect.

Don't be afraid to take a full dosage if you are sleep-deprived and have the extra time to devote to sleeping. Sleep aids will put you into a very deep sleep cycle, which may mean having at least two methods for waking up in the morning.

5. Try earplugs, white noise generators and eye masks. Sleep is a result of many different processes happening all at once.

Environmental cues such as sunset or a darkened room are part of those processes. If total darkness brings on a deeper sleep cycle for you, then try a light-dampening sleep mask. Some people are kept awake by extraneous noises, so a comfortable set of earplugs may also help induce meaningful sleep.

Sound cues can also help in the sleeping cycle, so many people find a white noise generator filters out unwanted sounds. These devices may also generate other natural sounds, such as a babbling brook, a moving train or crashing ocean waves.