Updated: Mar 5
Sleep is crucial. It is fundamental. Poor sleep quality has been associated with increased risk for developing or worsening other diseases and may even have a shorter lifespan. Fixing poor sleep is Primary Care 101. Here is one family doctor’s advice:
Obtaining good sleep starts in the morning. Make sure you have outdoor exposure early i.e. taking a brisk walk or having your coffee outside; like Tom T. Hall, “wash your face in the morning dew, bathe your soul in the sun.” Later, try limiting your caffeine intake after lunch. Historically, some people have sworn by napping but for the most part any naps during the day longer than 30 minutes could disrupt your natural sleep rhythms.
As bedtime approaches, try not to have too much artificial light in the house. Now, they sell blue light blocker glasses and you can set a timer on your phone to reduce blue light on your screen after a certain time. Certain routines like a glass of chamomile tea help people relax (but mind your bladder!) Natural supplements such as melatonin may be taken at bedtime to augment natural sleep. Valerian root has also been proven in some studies to help people with insomnia, but likely has the biggest risk of side effects i.e. liver issues. There are lots of over-the-counter sleep aids, so please ask your doctor. Prescription sleep medicines like Ambien are not a safe or sustainable fix.
Making sure your bedroom is optimized is crucial! The walls should be painted a dark and subtle color e.g. blue or green. There should be black out curtains to reduce light pollution--you can pull them back in the morning. In order to aid in creating a nice natural environment, consider adding a noise machine that plays nature sounds. The temperature at night should be between 63-67 degrees or as close to that as you can afford; 65 is my favorite though sometimes my AC bill doesn't always allow it.
The bed should be used for two things--sex and sleep. Anything else and your body starts to think you should be doing other awake activities in your bed. There should NOT be a television in the bedroom. Even if a television is in the room but off, your brain sometimes cannot know the difference. The same goes for your phone, and if you are able to place it away from your bed or even perhaps outside the bedroom, you may be better off. Alarm clocks are cheap, so no excuses.
If you cannot go to sleep, get up out of the bed--no matter what hour-- and go read a book , listen to a podcast, or fold laundry until your eyes start to nod off. You may be tired the next day, but sometimes you have to just get back in cycle.
BONUS: If you feel like you could fall asleep at any point of the day and do not feel well-rested after a full night’s sleep, please talk to your doctor about being screened for Sleep Apnea.
Jarrod Couch, D.O.