Knowing how much sleep you need every night is one thing, but actually getting enough sleep is something else entirely. For many people, it’s common to go to bed at a reasonable time, only to toss and turn for several hours, dreading the inevitable fatigue that will come in the morning. But there are some small changes you can make to ensure you’ll actually nod off. To learn more, I spoke with Dr. Michael Breus, who provided expert tips for achieving the recommended amount of sleep each night.
Breus, who is also known as “The Sleep Doctor,” has shared his expertise in numerous blogs, books, and even programs such as The Dr. Oz Show. He also tweets helpful sleep tips @thesleepdoctor. Not surprisingly, he cautions against the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.
“It affects every organ system,” he says, adding that a lack of sleep can make illnesses and pains worse. In fact, according to Psychology Today, sleep deprivation may even make flu shots less effective. The downsides are not limited to physical pain either, as sleep deprivation can affect your mood tremendously. “If you’re anxious, it makes you more anxious," he says. "If you’re depressed, it makes you more depressed."
Furthermore, when you’re running on too little sleep, your reaction times decrease (not a good thing if you’re driving), and your cognitive functions are impaired. “You don’t make clear decisions the more sleep deprived you are,” Breus says. So to keep your health, mind, and mood in good working order, here are Breus' tips for addressing the most common sleep-related problems.
1. Take Time To Decompress Before Bed
After running around all day, having conversations, and doing work, chances are you haven't had a chance to mentally process the events of your day or even begin to think about what you want to tackle tomorrow. "The complaint I hear most is that people can’t turn off their brain," Breus says. Indeed, it can be tricky to switch your brain from Go Mode to Sleep Mode, and fretting about your day while lying in bed can even trigger an autonomic arousal response (such as a rapid heartbeat) that Dr. Breus says makes sleep even more elusive. It's a good idea to take a few minutes to decompress and unwind before bed.
2. Address Depression & Anxiety
Some people worry about more than just the daily grind, and Breus notes that being a "generally anxious or depressed person" may also entail some difficulty sleeping. If you feel that depression or anxiety may be the root of your sleeping difficulties, then talking over your treatment options with a counselor or physician might be a great step toward more restful nights.
3. Nix The Late Afternoon Lattes
That midday Venti might be the reason you're wide awake and staring at the ceiling at 1:00 a.m. Caffeine stays in your body for eight to ten hours after you drink it, "so the cup of coffee you had at 4 in the afternoon still alive and well in your system when you try to go to bed at 10:30 p.m.,” Breus says. Timing your caffeine consumption for the morning may be your best bet.
4. Limit Distractions In Your Bedroom
Is your bedroom really optimized for sleeping? Breus notes that factors like, "too much light, sounds, or animals in the bed" may disrupt your ability to sleep. This one depends on your situation: some people can nod right off in a bright room with a blaring TV, while others need total silence and no distractions.
5. Look Into Medical Conditions
Being in pain from certain medical conditions, such as fibromyalgia, can also make sleeping difficult. Breus says that there are, "a lot of people with pain issues who have trouble falling and staying asleep." In these cases he recommends a PM analgesic, such as Advil PM, as a great way to manage pain and promote sleep. Because everyone deserves to get adequate sleep each night.