Amy McGorry: You know you should be getting your shut eye every night, but if you are like most of us, you're either not sleeping enough, waking up a lot when you do or lying there wondering if it's too late to get up and turn on the TV. In fact 60% of Americans experience sleep problems every single night. Before you write this off as another of life's unsolvable problems, try these simple tweaks that can prep you for a much better night sleep.
First, try keeping a sleep diary to help you understand how your habits affect your rest; track your sleep everyday for at least 2 weeks. Write down not only what's obviously sleep related, like what time you go to bed, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how many times you wake up during the night or how you feel in the morning, but also factors like what you ate close to bedtime and what exercise you got. Comparing your daily activities with your nightly sleep patterns can show you where you need to make changes. For a sample sleep diary go to sleepdoctor.
It's also important to cut out caffeine after 2pm. That means coffee, tea and soda. Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your system for up to 8 hours. So if you have a cappuccino after dinner, come bedtime it can either prevent your brain from entering deep sleep or stop you from falling asleep altogether.
Exercise can also help you sleep better, but make sure you do at least four hours before bedtime. Working out, especially cardio improves the length and quality of your sleep. That said 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise keeps your body temperature elevated for about 4 hours, inhibiting sleep. When your body begins to cool down, however it signals the brain to release sleep-inducing melatonin so then you'll feel drowsy.
Finally, choose carefully when it comes to a bedtime snack. The ideal night time snack combines carbohydrates and either calcium or protein that contains the amino acid tryptophan. Studies show that both of these combos boost serotonin, a naturally occurring brain chemical that helps you feel calm.
Enjoy your snack about an hour before bedtime so that the amino acids have time to reach your brain. Some good choices, one piece of whole grain toast with a slice of low fat cheese or turkey, a banana with a teaspoon of peanut better or cheese and crackers.
For most people, simple lifestyle changes will be enough but if you feel like medication might be necessary, talk to your doctor. Some prescription sleep aids work for people who have trouble falling asleep and there are even newer medications like Intermezzo which can be taken to help you fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night. As with any prescription medication there may be risks involved, so be sure to talk to your doctor.
And those are just a few tips to help you sleep through the night.