A poor night’s sleep doesn’t just leave you dragging throughout your busy day. The cumulative effects of long-term sleep deprivation can compromise your physical, mental and emotional health and contribute to a sleep debt that you must eventually repay. According to Mark Hyman, M.D., approximately 70 percent of Americans experience some form of sleep deprivation, a factor that impedes their natural circadian rhythms -- the hormonal and chemical processes responsible for keeping your body healthy and in good repair. Although sleep requirements vary from one person to another, with experimentation, it is possible to achieve a healthy sleep schedule suitable for your particular needs. Consult with your doctor if you are unable to resolve your sleep problems on your own.
Make your bedroom an oasis for sleep. Install blackout shades to prevent light and outside noise from piercing your environment. Experiment with a sleep mask and earplugs and install a fan or white noise generator to mask low-level household sounds. Use a low-watt bulb in your bedside lamp, if you choose to read before sleep.
Skip the nightcap. While alcohol before bedtime might help lull you to sleep, it prohibits the REM sleep cycle, the restorative period of sleep associated with learning and memory. Opt for a warm cup of herbal tea, tepid water or whole, organic milk with a pinch of turmeric or nutmeg, an Ayurvedic remedy to ward off insomnia.
Establish a regular bedtime routine to help your body associate specific activities with preparation for sleep. Dissolve one cup each of baking soda and Epsom salt in a warm bath and soak for 10 or 15 minutes to raise your body temperature and induce sleepiness.
Adjust the temperature in your bedroom. Although you don’t want to shiver under your covers, a cooler environment is more conducive to a restful, prolonged sleep. Opt for natural fabric bed linens that breath rather than synthetic materials that are less absorbent and responsive to changes in your body temperature.
Turn off your television, laptop and other electronic devices a couple of hours before bedtime. Flickering lights stimulate the brain and suppress melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone that helps to regulate your sleep patterns. Listen to soothing music or a relaxation CD to help quiet your mind and allow you to drift off to sleep naturally.
Keep a notebook and pen at your bedside to record ideas or worrisome thoughts that wake you in the middle of the night. If you are unable to fall back to sleep, resist turning on the lights or television to help you nod off. Calm your mind and body with deep breathing or graduated muscle-relaxation techniques to help release tension and restore calm.
- A daily dose of sunshine stimulates your body to produce your daily supply of melatonin.
- Sleep requirements and strategies vary from one person to another. Experiment with your routine until you find the solution that suits your lifestyle and personal requirements.
- Schedule your exercise or workout program to no later than five or six hours before your bedtime.
- Ask your doctor or herbalist whether natural sleeping aids, such herbal teas or supplements, are appropriate for your circumstances.
- Over-the-counter and prescription sleeping aids are temporary fixes that can disrupt your sleep patterns and eventually lead to dependence.
Susan Brassard writes about natural health-related topics, complementary and alternative medicine and issues relative to a holistic approach to the aging process. Following a career in business and finance, she obtained a Master of Arts in gerontology and several certifications in energy therapies. She is the author of a workbook and resource guide for older adults.