Did all that turkey from Thanksgiving make you want a nap? Since so many people find the Holiday Season stressful, now is a good time to look at sleep hygiene. We've heard getting enough sleep is good for us. But if you are one of the many Americans who can't fall asleep at night, that may be easier said than done. Here are some tips for getting a good night's rest.
Exhausted is different than sleepy: "Contrary to what people think, being exhausted doesn't necessarily make people sleep better," says Thomas Roth, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. "There's actually a big difference between being exhausted and being sleepy." Roth points out that if you ran 50 miles and then dropped down in bed, you would unquestionably be exhausted. But your body might be too energized to sleep. What to do?
Unwind first: If you come home from a long day completely exhausted, it might be temping to stumble right to bed. But if you've ever had the experience of tumbling into bed totally wiped out and staring at the ceiling for an hour unable to sleep, you'll know you need to unwind first. This doesn't mean a night cap!
Warm milk or herbal tea: Why no alcohol? Doesn't it make you sleepy? While alcohol may make you drowsy at first, it affects your sleep rhythm. At first it's a sedative, but then a few hours later it will wake you up. To prevent your glass of wine from waking you up in the middle of the night, stop drinking two to three hours before bed. Instead, have some warm milk or a cup of chamomile tea. When heated, milk contains tryptophan, a natural amino acid sleep inducer and chamomile is a gentle herb known to soothe nerves and promote relaxation.
Take a Warm Shower. A warm shower does more than relax the muscles. Scientific studies show that people sleep deeper when their bodies are at a different temperature than the surrounding environment. By taking a warm shower, you increase the temperature difference between the environment surrounding you and your body, leading to a faster, deeper sleep.
Use the night: When it's dark your body is naturally more inclined to sleep. So dim your lights, turn off the TV, and shut down the computer several hours before bed. This "artificial light pollution" stimulates your brain to thinking it's time to be awake. Just like chickens who, with artificial light, will continue to lay eggs year-round, artificial light for humans keeps us in an awake state too.
Go with it: If you can't get to sleep after about 15 minutes, get out of bed and do some lightweight activity - a yoga pose, a short walk, some breathing exercises. Nothing vigorous - we want sleepy, not exhausted! And remember to keep the TV and computer off to avoid the light stimulation.
Don't Medicate, Meditate: Forget the sleeping pills and try some meditation. While lying in bed, start by gazing upward. Take an abdominal breath and hold it. On the out breath, let everything relax. Repeat one or two times. Then imagine yourself walking down a flight of stairs or a gentle hill while counting down from 10 or 20, each number signifying your movement to a lower step. Exhale with each imaginary step.