Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of improving our sleep to help boost our immune systems and to help reduce the stress we might be feeling.
As the Chief Medical Officer, the person who watches out for the health of the entire family, if you or someone in your family is not sleeping well, it usually falls in your lap to help solve it.
Many people are writing to me, like a friend whose four-year-old daughter is suddenly wetting the bed after being completely potty trained and dry at night. The stress in the family does spill over to the kids.
On the other side of the spectrum, a patient was telling me that her sleep is interrupted by her husband’s CPAP machine and his frequent trips to the bathroom.
You’ve probably heard a lot lately about having better sleep hygiene, but what exactly does that mean? We know that our bodies need deep restful sleep, between 6-8 hours each night. Getting plenty of sleep helps mood, memory, and productivity. As tempting as it may be to finish a gazillion emails in bed, you’ll be more productive the next morning after some much-needed rest.
When it gets dark, our bodies produce melatonin, a natural sleep aid. When our eyes are exposed to light, yes, even the light from a cell phone or iPad, our retinas get stimulated, telling our brains that it’s time to wake up.
Here are 8 tried and true ways to get better sleep
- Start to prepare for sleep about 30 minutes prior to pillow time. Aim for the same time to hit the hay every night. Just like kids, we do better with a routine, which helps our brains set up new neural pathways that signal sleepy time is just around the corner.
- A calming cup of peppermint or chamomile tea are naturally relaxing
- A hot bath or hot shower, lots of lotion and soft PJs signal your senses that it’s time to relax and unwind
- Turn off all devices and place them into sleep mode or better yet leave them in another room. Remember, the light will tell your brain to wake up and this reduces the time you have in restorative sleep.
- Make sure your bed is reserved for sleep and sex only, no work. By the way, sex helps release a lot of oxytocin which is also a natural sleep-inducing hormone.
- Though it’s tempting to fall asleep cuddling with a pet, their sleep cycles are shorter than ours, so you’re more likely to move out of deep restorative sleep into lighter sleep.
- Make sure your room is dark, use eyeshades if you have to and cover any distracting lights
- Use white noise or soothing sounds in the background if there’s a lot of noise from outside your windows. Reduce as much noise as possible. For people who sleep with someone who snores or is using a CPAP machine, do get earplugs! Get the ones made of wax, as they block more noise than the foam ones.
Waking up with racing thoughts?
Many friends and patients are relating how the news right now is creeping into their dreams and they find themselves waking up worrying about the Corona Virus. This is completely understandable. But what should you do?
- Stop, pause and breathe deeply at least 3 times
- Focus on your breath going in and out
- Notice that your heart is beating
- Now notice that you are safe right here, right now
It’s ok to have trouble sleeping, especially right now. Try to be kind to yourself and focus on what you can do to nurture yourself, instead of adding more worry about not sleeping to your already long worry list.
If you’re worried about someone in particular or many people, notice that feeling and then very kindly and without judgment allow yourself to feel the compassion and empathy that it brings up.
You may find that offering up kind thoughts or a silent prayer helps you feel better in the moment. Remind yourself why you are worried, it’s because you love and care for these people and that is a good thing.
Then if possible, remind yourself of what you can control and what you can’t and if you need to get up to make a list of the things you need to do tomorrow, then do that so that you can clear your mind to go back to sleep.
If you know that you’ll be up for at least an hour, then consider reading something funny or distracting that’s completely separate from your worries. You might try a guided meditation or practicing mindfulness.
Right now, it’s important to have realistic expectations of what we can do and be as kind to ourselves as possible.