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February 19, 2019

Quitting bad sleep habits

Do you toss and turn in bed at night or stare at the ceiling waiting to fall asleep? If so, you’re among the nearly one-third of Americans that lie awake at least a few nights each week. Oftentimes, adopting healthy sleep habits and making simple lifestyle changes can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Having trouble falling asleep?

Here are some things you can do before bedtime to help you fall asleep more easily:

Dim the lights in your home an hour or so before bedtime. Bright lights can interfere with production of melatonin – a naturally occurring hormone that is key to our sleep. Melatonin affects our body clocks (or circadian rhythm) and  research shows that regularly exposing yourself to bright lighting in the late evening disrupts melatonin signalling and could therefore potentially impact sleep.

Along with dimming the lighting in your home, you should also avoid all screens, including your phone, tablet, laptop and television Just like bright lighting, the light from these devices stimulates your brain and will keep you awake for much longer.

Go to bed only when you're sleepy. If you aren't sleepy at bedtime, do something relaxing that will help you wind down like reading, stretching or a hot bath or shower.

If you find yourself laying in bed trying to fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, get up out of bed and go elsewhere, perhaps a comfortable chair in your bedroom or living room. Sometimes a change of environment is enough to take your mind off of trying to fall asleep.

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Wake up at the same time every day. If you experience increased awake time during the night, resist the urge to sleep in. It’s also important to avoid daytime napping as it can throw off your sleep cycle.

Having trouble staying asleep?

As equally frustrating as having trouble falling asleep is having trouble staying asleep. And just like the latter, you should refrain from looking at any screens (phone, tablet, laptop and tv) as a means to make you sleepy as they suppress melatonin production in the brain, making it more difficult for you to fall back asleep.

Just as when you can’t initially fall asleep, experts also recommend getting out of bed after 20 minutes to take your mind off of not being able to fall back asleep. It may also be helpful to put your bedroom clock out of sight to help relieve clock-watching stress, which can make it harder to fall back asleep.

Eat a healthy diet and avoid large meals before bedtime. Wait two to three hours after your last meal before going to bed. This allows digestion to occur and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine, helping to  prevent heartburn and reflux which can  wake you up.

If your inability to stay asleep is becoming more and more frequent, you may have sleep apnea. Of the 54 million people in the United States thought to be living with sleep apnea, it is estimated that about 80 percent do not have a formal diagnosis. Sleep apnea happens when a person lies down to sleep and the muscles in the throat relax. This may lead to a shift in the tongue and soft palate, causing the airway to narrow so much that it briefly closes off partially or completely. This disrupts breathing and may reduce the level of oxygen in the blood.

Drops in oxygen levels alert the brain that something isn’t working as it should. As oxygen level continues to drop, the sleeper wakes themself up, tensing the muscles of the airway to re-establish breathing.

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, make an appointment to see a sleep doctor.