By William Jantsch MD

Sleep is a remarkable phenomenon that is not well understood, but definitely necessary for proper mental and physical function. Most adults need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep every day. The consequences of not getting sufficient good-quality sleep are severe, and can include depression, chronic fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, muscle aches, and an increase in risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Many people have no trouble sleeping; such people fall asleep easily, go through multiple cycles of REM sleep (or “rapid eye movement” sleep, when dreams occur), and wake up feeling refreshed and invigorated. Unfortunately, many others will have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or will not sleep efficiently, and will roll out of bed in the morning just as tired as when they went to bed.

People with poor sleep quality would be well served to consult a physician, who may be able to determine whether there is physical or psychological reason for poor sleep. One of the most common conditions leading to poor sleep nowadays is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a consequence of severe snoring which causes a person to choke during the night, temporarily interrupting breathing.

Prior to or in conjunction with a physician’s evaluation, there are steps a person can take in order to have a better chance of good sleep. These measures as a whole are referred to as “sleep hygiene”, and recommendations follow:
a. Have a regular routine: Go to bed at the same time every night, and try to get up at the same time every morning; Try taking a warm bath or shower prior to going to bed. Meditation or other quiet activity right before bedtime may help you be relaxed and calm.
b. Avoid naps: Napping can lead to fragmentation of sleep patterns at night.
c. Foods, beverages, and medications to avoid: Alcohol is the worst offender- a few drinks may help you get to sleep, but the process of metabolizing the alcohol will cause you to be awakened in the middle of the night. Also, avoid decongestants and other cold medications. Coffee and tea should be enjoyed only in the morning, not after noon.
d. Things not to do in bed:
     1. Stay awake: If you just can’t sleep, after 5 minutes get up and sit quietly in a chair in the dark. Don’t turn on the lights and start reading or going on the computer.
     2. Eat
     3. Watch tv
     4. Use a tablet or computer with a bright screen: the bright blue lights of a computer or tablet screen can fool your brain into thinking that it is still daytime.
e. Get regular exercise: Try not to exercise within 8 hours of going to sleep at night.
f. Have a quiet and comfortable sleep environment: Keep the bedroom cool and quiet; consider getting a “white noise” generator if there are extraneous sounds around you. Don’t let your pets interrupt your sleep by jumping on the bed. Make sure your mattress is comfortable.

If you have further questions, ask your primary doctor, or consider chatting with one of the doctors on BitMED.

Good night, and sleep well!