The power of sleep

We all have trouble sleeping from time to time, but it can become a real problem when insomnia persists day after day. Beyond making one tired and moody, a lack of sleep can have serious effects on our health, increasing our propensity for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

So what causes sleep issues? Poor sleep habits. An irregular bedtime, frequent naps, late-night activities, or weekend sleeping in can scramble your body’s normal sleep and wake schedules.

Emotional stress accounts for more than 50% of chronic sleep problems. Other causes for sleep problems include physical illness and diet and exercise habits. Alcohol or caffeine near bedtime can have adverse effects on one’s sleeping patterns. A large meal or strenuous exercise close to bedtime can temporarily boost the body’s metabolism, chasing away sleep. Before turning to other options, try some of these tips to help you get a better night’s sleep.

1. Exercise—“Exercise boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin,” says Dr. Karen Carlson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Carlson suggests a morning workout is ideal. Exposing yourself to bright daylight first thing in the morning will help the natural circadian rhythm.

2. Ambience matters—Noise, light, excessive heat or cold, drafts, the air that’s too humid or too dry, all can prevent sleep.

3. Start a sleep ritual—Just like routine was so important to your child’s evening sleep habits, the same goes for adults. “Rituals help signal the body and mind that it’s going to be time for sleep,” explains Carlson. Drink a glass of warm milk, take a bath, listen to calming music, or read a book for pleasure to unwind before. Avoid television or your phone.

4. De-stress—Worries can manifest when you are finally trying to rest. This stress is a stimulus that fights your efforts to sleep. Before winding down, deal with these worries first. Try writing out your concerns and what actions can be taken. Plan a little bit for the next day. Then start relaxing, try some deep breathing exercises.

5. Try taking a break—Rather than trying harder and harder to fall asleep during a poor night, turn on the light and try doing something else for a while. This can decrease frustration and tension about being unable to sleep.