Quality sleep is so important for all of us for so many reasons: emotional health, immune system efficiency, daytime energy, just to name a few. But sleep is especially important for those of you living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) because bad sleep impacts your thinking efficiency during the day. Not to mention that it contributes to moodiness, fights with our spouses, low motivation, and generally feeling poorly during the day. About a year ago, I posted a two part story on sleep apnea. The first part reviewed the importance of treating sleep apnea--important for many of same reasons it is important to maximize quality sleep in general! The second part provided some tips for adjusting to a CPAP device, which can be tough.
Today, I wanted to provide some tips to maximize the chance of good quality sleep whether or not you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. This is sometimes referred to as "healthy sleep habits" or "sleep hygiene". These are habits that essentially tell your brain reliably that it is time to sleep and allow you to naturally experience all phases of your sleep cycle most reliably so you get deep restorative sleep. We discuss these in our HABIT program as our top 10 behaviors for healthy sleep and I'd like to share them with you!
These first habits are about building a good sleep routine. Basically the routine about how you get to bed and when:
1.Stick to a sleep schedule. Do your best. If you get to bed late one day--try to make yourself get up as the same time and get back to the schedule the next day.
2.Use the bedroom only for sleep and intimacy. Do you exercise in your bedroom? Watch TV? Pay bills? Try to do as many of these activities as possible in other rooms of your home. The goals is to have your brain pair your bedroom with sleep. That association, along with other good sleep habit routines, will help your brain release melatonin--the sleep hormone--at the right time.
3.No TV in the bedroom. In addition to the reason in #2 above, TV is stimulating and disruptive to the sleep cycle.
4.Have a relaxation activity as part of your bedtime routine. Try listening to relaxing music as you get ready for bed, a meditation activity, a breathing exercise, or saying your prayers (if that is your practice)--these relaxing activities help to lower your sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight response) and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest system).
5.Discontinue screen time 1 hour before bed. Our brain interprets most light from electronics as sunlight which delays release of melatonin as our brains think it is still day time. However, I have recently seen research articles such as this one that suggest that using amber lenses to block the blue tone light may help.
6. Have a memory notebook handy at the bedside for those last minute thoughts of things that need to get done the next day that might keep you awake. Write them down so that you know you'll be able to deal with them tomorrow. If you find that worrying about things you can't control becomes an issue, you may benefit from seeing a psychologist to help you develop alternative thinking patterns for those times.
These last habits are more about how you structure the rest of your day and environment and how that may help improve your sleep.
7. Get physical exercise daily, especially earlier in the day. This is always my #1 tip when my patients tell me they feel tired during the day. Getting exercise in the morning activates your brain and sets it off on the proper cycle. Your body is more ready for rest and sleep with activity in the day.
8. Sunshine in the morning. This is the companion recommendation to avoiding electronics in the evening. Get sunshine in the morning so your brain gets the message it is time to be awake!
9. Check your environment. How long have you had that mattress? Is your pet in the bed with you? Review that the mattress and pillows are comfortable, the temperature is cool enough, you have the right blankets, your beloved Fido or Tiger has their own sleeping space, you have curtains that block out light that might bother you, the TV is off, etc. Pets can certainly be reassuring, but they unfortunately do disrupt the sleep cycle in bed with you. Having them on their own bed in your room, may be a good solution.
10. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals before bed. These all disrupt your body's ability to sleep soundly and move fluidly through all the phases of sleep as desired through the night.
It can be difficult to implement all of the above tips and you may feel like your sleep is worse before it gets better. There are psychologists who specialize in helping treat sleep problems using cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. They will help you implement many of the above routines and more to help you maximize your sleep quality.
I hope you can try out some of these tips---and give them a little time for your body to adjust. Please feel free to comment on your experiences or provide any other tips you've found helpful!