Did you know that its "National Sleep Awareness Week?" To help raise awareness around optimal sleep health we asked Dr. Meredith Broderick, a triple-board certified sleep expert and clinician, to share some of her expert tips guaranteed to improve your sleep.
Tip #1: Education
I have found that knowledge can really help motivate you to make changes and so National Sleep Awareness Week is the perfect time to research sleep science and figure out what works for you. Even in my personal experience in medical school there wasn’t a ton taught on the subject, I only had one lecture on sleep. So if you’re only going to your Primary Care Physician keep in mind that they might not know much about sleep. I have some great resources on my website, and some of my favorite book recommendations are “How to Sleep” by Rafael Pelayo and “The Promise of Sleep” by William Dement. Education can really empower you and help you understand why you might need to make a change.
Tip #2: Make Sleep a Priority
I suggest making a list of reasons as to why sleep is important to you and the ways you’re going to change your habits. Whether it’s your health, to be in a better mood, or a medical issue it’s important to identify your “why”. One of the most accessible tools that people can use is a sleep diary, you can find a copy on the National Sleep Foundation’s website. A lot of times when people keep a diary for a week they find what they think is happening is much different than what is really happening. In the diary you should track how long you slept, did you use a sleep aid, what time did you get in bed, did you wake up in the middle of the night and for how long, etc. These data points help to understand how close to normal is your sleep and how you can adjust it to make it more normal. Setting your intentions will help to stick with your goals and a diary will keep you accountable.
Tip #3: Establish A Bedtime Ritual
Everyone needs a wind-down period before being able to full shut-off. For any of us with children, it’s really evident how much a bedtime routine helps cue their body for sleep. Think about when you smell your favorite food, it triggers a response from your body and your bedtime ritual does the same thing. It might be putting on your favorite Cool Nights pajamas, or taking a bath, whatever it is you should try and re-produce that at the same time each night because it helps let the body know that’s time for sleep and that can be just as potent for adults as it it for kids. You also need to pay attention to your bedtime environment including the amount of light in your room, the sounds, etc. I recommend shutting off technology at least 2-3 hours before you would normally go to bed.
Tip #4: Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
People always ask me what the most common thing that inhibits sleep is and I would definitely say drinking too much caffeine and alcohol before bed. Caffeine inhibits one of the neurotransmitters that helps product the deep sleep and we have become very desensitized to the effects of caffeine. If you started your coffee drinking habit in your 20’s you might still drink the same amount or even more now but your body can’t metabolize it as fast, it gets slower and slower over the years and it becomes a really common cause of people not having the quality of sleep they could get. And then it’s a vicious cycle where people don’t sleep well so they feel tired and they add more caffeine but it loses its stimulant effect after a while because you become tolerant. And with alcohol, it steals the REM sleep very severely (REM sleep is one of our 2 stages of deep sleep) so it really messes up your sleep quality. It also causes a fight or flight response, so you might notice that you wake up in the middle of the night more when have had an extra drink or two.
Tip #5: Pay Attention To How You Respond To Sleep Problems
The number #1 thing I hear from patients is, “I had a bad night of sleep last night so I am going to go to bed earlier tonight” and that can be counter-productive. It can be especially counter-productive if you have issues falling asleep or suffer from insomnia. Because if you look at the alerting signal that comes from our brains, we are actually very alert right before the time we normally go to sleep. So sometimes you set yourself up for failure if you go to bed much earlier out of alignment with your circadian rhythm and then you will become even more frustrated when you don’t fall asleep but are exhausted. If possible, it’s better to try and take a nap in the afternoon and then go to bed at your usual time. Body temperature can also affect sleep, many women report a sensation of overheating while they sleep and the reason is that there is increased blood flow to the skin surface starting about two hours before sleep onset and until early morning hours. One of the reasons sleep evolved in animals is to conserve energy and so after the sun goes down our body temperature starts to decrease, and the way that our bodies lower our core temperatures is by sending blood flow to our extremities (arms and legs), releasing heat so it might feel like we are hot but our body is actually trying to get rid of heat so that our core body temperature goes down. Therefore wearing a loose fitting fabric like Soma’s Cool Nights actually helps to facilitate that heat release and that heat transfer so that you feel cooler and sleep deeper.