Treat your sleep like the vacation it is

It’s common knowledge that a good night’s sleep prepares us for a successful day, but I like to think of it the other way around: Good planning for sleep during the day can ensure successful sleep at night.

As a neurologist who specializes in sleep, I tell my patients that what they eat during the day, how often they exercise, how they manage stress, and how much screen time they get all play into the quality and quantity of sleep they’re bound to get at night.

For people who suffer from anxiety around sleep, the idea of preparing for sleep all day might sound unnerving at first. But I liken preparation for sleep to preparation for vacation. Sleep, after all, is the vacation our brains go on every night. Start thinking about sleep that way, and you are bound to be more conscientious about your approach to slumber.

So, how do you “pack” for your sleep vacation?

  • Avoid heavy or spicy food for two to three hours before bedtime, and eat healthy, nourishing foods throughout the day.
  • Use blackout blinds to make your bedroom darker or an eye mask.
  • Avoid napping.
  • Establish good “sleep hygiene,” a regular wind-down routine that involves going to bed around the same time every night, including at weekends.
  • Avoid technology in the bedroom. Light from TVs and computer screens suppress melatonin and affects the quality of your sleep.
  • Maintain a cool room temperature. A lower temperature helps induce sleep.
  • Get plenty of exercise during the day.

For those people whose sleep disorders require more expert care, consult a sleep specialist. At the Voltmer Sleep Center, for instance, we use cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques to “re-train” people to sleep more soundly.

We have also revamped our insomnia program, incorporating wearables that can help people identify sleep issues. Our goal is to help people achieve better sleep as naturally as possible.

The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to physical illnesses ranging from the common as a cold to diabetes, heart failure, and even premature death.

The ideal average for sleep is eight hours, and several large cross-sectional epidemiological studies have found that sleeping fewer than six hours per night increased mortality risk by roughly 15 percent.

Unfortunately, a misconception persists that the older we get, the less sleep we need. None of the research bears this out. Instead, what scientists have found is that we are unable to sleep as efficiently when we get older. The connections in our brain that separate our wake center from our sleep center are not as robust. As a result, it becomes more difficult to go to bed right away and far easier to wake up.

This is often perceived as insomnia, when it’s really a circadian rhythm disorder. It is also the reason why you might walk into a gym at 5 a.m. and see it filled with senior citizens. Older people tend to wake up earlier, which is fine. But in order to get the sleep their bodies still need, they should be going to bed earlier, too.

Sleep at night restores us for the next day. It is also one of the most fascinating things we do. Not only does sleep provide your body and brain with the opportunity to repair itself, but your dreams can also take you literally anywhere.

So, treat your sleep like the vacation it is. When planning an excursion, you probably notice that you start to go into “vacation mode” before your trip actually starts. The same should be true for sleep. Unplug a few hours ahead of time and get appropriately dressed for your “trip” to dreamland. Then fluff up your pillows and look forward to the journey ahead.

Jay Puangco is a neurologist, Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, CA.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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