Christine wasn’t surprised when she rear-ended a car that morning. Already a poor sleeper, it always got worse when her workload as a freelance editor suddenly picked up. Most nights she tossed and turned, getting by on six hours of sleep, but because she had several deadlines to meet over the next week, her sleep was even worse. So this particular night, rather than lie in bed tossing, turning, and worrying about work, she chose to finish some editing on her computer. She finally went to bed at 1:00 A.M. By then she felt tired enough to sleep. Yet, she still lay there until 2:00 A.M. before finally drifting off.
Her alarm went off at 5:00 A.M. Rising after a mere three hours of sleep, she showered, dressed, and raced off to an early morning meeting. Because it ran over, she was even further behind with her schedule, so she didn’t stop for her midmorning coffee. Then, stuck in traffic, she fell asleep at the wheel. The airbag striking her face awakened her to the fact that she’d rammed into the vehicle in front of her. Fortunately, it was a minor accident, but it could have been much worse.
Like Christine, millions of Americans have a sleep problem. And it isn’t just a contemporary issue. The Bible tells of individuals who struggled with getting enough rest. Job’s insomnia was so acute that he lamented, “When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on, and I toss till dawn” (Job 7:4).
According to sleep disorder specialists, sleeping well is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Sleep deprivation results in wide-ranging issues such as impaired memory, reduced alertness, slower reaction time, less patience, decreased work productivity, strained relationships, weakened immune system, lack of energy, irritability, greater risk for diabetes and obesity, and rising blood pressure. Fortunately, there are ways to remedy this situation. Sleep problems are not insurmountable. Here are seven tips for getting a good night’s sleep.
1 Be Predictable
Establish and maintain a regular sleep schedule. Stick to one you can maintain seven days a week. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Avoid sleeping in on the weekends, because if you sleep in Sunday morning, you’re likely to toss and turn on Sunday night. That, in turn, sets you up for sleep disorder as you begin your work week.
“Getting up at the same time every day, including weekends, is probably the most important step toward establishing a good sleep pattern,” says James Walsh, executive director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri, “because regular exposure to light in the morning is what sets the brain’s alarm clock.” He points out that light exposure helps the body regulate itself into a rhythm by establishing the time to wake up (when it’s light) and the time to become drowsy again (after dark).
2 Practice Emotional and Spiritual Stress Management
It’s hard to rest well if you’re worried and stressed about some aspect of your life or work. This was the psalmist’s issue: “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Psalm 6:6). Learn some stress management techniques to help you cope with daily stress.
One suggestion sleep experts offer is to schedule “worry time” early in the evening before retiring. They recommend a 30-minute period to write out worries on a paper, along with possible solutions. This simple exercise relaxes the mind, permitting better sleep.
Spiritual stress management is another step to take when you’re stressed or anxious. Explain your concerns to God in prayer. Seek His wisdom and direction, and then trust that He will look after you.
3 Modify Your Sleep Environment
“Without realizing it, I turned my bedroom into an entertainment center and office away from my job,” said Jana, a university professor. “Shortly after that my sleeping became less and less refreshing and more and more restless.” Her solution: she turned her bedroom back into a place of rest, not a place to work and watch TV.
Sleep experts advise people to study their physical environment, asking, Is my bedroom too hot or too cold? Is the mattress too hard or too soft? Is traffic roaring in the streets outside my window? Is too much light coming into my bedroom, even at night? Then make the changes that will facilitate healthy rest. Some suggestions:
- Use heavy drapes to keep out light and better darken the bedroom.
- Add white noise (such as a fan) to muffle outside noises that come from a busy street, airplanes, or trains, or even inside noises, such as a snoring partner.
- Sleep is better when the body is cooler, so turn down the heater or run the air conditioner.
- Invest in a mattress that works with your body.
4 Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine, which is found in coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and some teas, can interrupt sleep. Dr. Walsh recommends avoiding caffeine not only in the evening but even in the midafternoon, because caffeinated drinks consumed will continue stimulating the body for up to eight hours. “Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others,” he acknowledges. “However, some who don’t think they’re affected actually are. Research subjects who said they could drink coffee before bed and sleep well don’t sleep as well as they think when they’re tested in the lab.”
5 If You Smoke, Quit
Besides being a source of cancer, the nicotine contained in tobacco products stimulates brain-wave activity in addition to increasing blood pressure and heart rate. All of these make it difficult to sleep soundly. The advice from sleep disorder specialists: if you smoke, quit.
6 Nix the Nightcap
Sooner or later, someone will suggest that you take an alcoholic drink before bedtime to help you sleep. “Don’t,” advises Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a sleep researcher at the University of California at San Diego and author of All I Want Is a Good Night’s Sleep. “Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but several hours later, when the effect wears off, it starts disrupting your sleep, increasing your wakefulness during the second half of the night.”
7 Don’t Use Sleeping Pills
Some people turn to prescription sleeping pills. These “do not solve the underlying problem, and once you start taking them, you can get hooked,” says Isadore Rosenfeld, a physician and medical journalist. “If you and your doctor decide you need a sleeping pill, use one that’s short-acting, doesn’t leave you with a hangover, works quickly, and doesn’t accumulate in the body. Don’t take it for more than three weeks, and never borrow one from a friend.”
If you don’t feel you’ve experienced improvement after trying these remedies, check with your physician. He or she may discover that you have a physical disorder that’s interfering with your sleep. For example, chronic pain from arthritis or an injury can keep you awake. So will shortness of breath due to lung or heart disease. Also, a common cause of insomnia is an overactive thyroid gland that constantly revs up body metabolism. Such physical issues can be best addressed in your physician’s office. If after a month or so the doctor’s suggestions aren’t helping, ask for a referral to a sleep specialist, who may be able to lead you to a good night’s sleep.