Dorit Gamus, MD, Ph.D., Director of the Complementary Medicine Service at Sheba Medical Center, shares tips on how to get the restful ZZZs you need.
The first step: Identify the problem
“First of all, you need to understand the reason for your poor sleep,” says Dr. Gamus. There are many possible mental and physiological reasons, including stress, anxiety, sleep apnea, chronic pain, hormonal changes, lack of melatonin, and taking stimulants. Bad sleep hygiene can also be a significant factor, such as sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress and pillow, eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime, or keeping your bedroom temperature too warm.
Once you identify the problem, you can work on fixing it. The solution could be as simple as buying a better mattress or turning on the A/C, or it could be more complex and involve visiting a physician for evaluation and testing.
Sleep hacks that can help
In many cases, a persistent lack of sleep can be prevented with several simple actions. Dr. Gamus suggests trying the following:
- Change your sleeping environment. You need a comfy mattress and pillow in a dark, quiet, and well-ventilated room. Your TV, phone, and other distractions should be kept out of the bedroom. Likewise, items such as your property tax bills should be kept waiting for you in another room.
- Prevent background noise and ambient light. Remove any ticking clocks or illuminated screens, and block the illumination of street lights with a thick curtain or blinds. Ear plugs can also help keep out unwanted noise.
- Climb into bed as soon as you feel your eyelids get heavy or sense any other early signs of tiredness. Once you fight sleep, a “second wind” may come and prevent your body from calming down.
- Don’t watch the clock – it’s stressful!
- Don’t take long naps during the day.
- Avoid strenuous exercise at least two hours before bedtime. Physical activity can raise blood adrenaline levels, acting as a stimulant.
- Starting a few hours before bedtime, stay away from anything that triggers the central nervous system, such as caffeine, alcohol and smoking.
- Don’t go to bed on a full stomach. Eat and drink lightly before heading to sleep.
- Aim to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, getting into bed every night around the same time and waking up each morning around the same time. This is how you can set your biological clock to regulate sleep patterns.
Know when to seek medical help
Nearly everyone has a sleepless night here and there, but if you often have trouble sleeping, and implementing the sleep hygiene tips above doesn’t help, it’s time to contact a doctor. A medical examination can identify any underlying conditions (such as sleep apnea) so you can get treatment, enabling your body to benefit from the deep, valuable sleep you need.
What to do when testing doesn’t yield results
Sometimes, the cause of a sleep disorder isn’t easily revealed – even with medical testing. At that point, supplementary treatment may be effective.
“Start with an integrative physician who combines Western and complementary medicine,” Dr. Gamus advises. “In many cases, therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback, reflexology, massage, herbs, hypnosis or homeopathy are the solution. All of these options can contribute to analgesia, help you change dietary habits, reduce stress and create a relaxed, beneficial backdrop for restful sleep.”
If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right solution for your problem quickly, turning your nights into sweet bliss. However, some people find that it takes a bit of time to improve their sleep. For example, acupuncture, reflexology, and shiatsu are typically performed once a week for 8-10 weeks, and homeopathic treatments can require a one- to two-month commitment.
While many people prioritize their healthy daytime activities, it’s important to remember that sleep plays a prominent, necessary role in your overall well-being. To optimize your health, don’t neglect your nighttime rest!