Graceful Health: How can I sleep better?

Tips from Grace Cottage care providers

TOWNSHEND — Do you have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep throughout the night? If so, you are not alone. In Vermont, more than one-third of adults report that they get less than the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep per night.

If you are among that 30 percent, you might benefit from learning about sleep hygiene. No, that doesn't mean brushing your teeth and washing your face at bedtime. The term "sleep hygiene" actually refers to various lifestyle habits and the environment in which you sleep.

No doubt, some of the principles of sleep hygiene are familiar to you, but it's worthwhile to review them and to keep them in mind.

When the term "sleep hygiene" was first coined in the 1970s, researchers were just beginning to make connections between certain habits and insomnia. Today, as sleep research has continued, we have come to see that insomnia often has a deeper cause.

If you are having a recurring problem with sleep, it is a good idea to visit your medical provider. It may be that there is a physiological problem that needs to be addressed. For example, sleep apnea, which is a series of pauses in your breathing during sleep, is a common disruptor to the natural and necessary sleep cycles. Treatments to solve a medical problem may clear up the sleep issues. Those whose insomnia is brought on by anxiety may find that mental health counseling helps. Whatever is needed, your primary care provider can refer you to the best source.

Perhaps your sleep difficulties are only occasional. Whether the issue is chronic or sporadic, sleep hygiene habits can support other efforts to cure insomnia and to prevent relapses.

Hopefully, the following sleep tips that we often share with our patients will help you sleep better.

Eileen Arama, Licensed Clinical Social Worker: What helps me during an occasional sleepless night or two is to "relax and be OK with it." I don't fight it. I stay in bed, make myself comfortable, leave the lights off, and enjoy the dark and the quiet of the night. I breathe and tell myself that if I am resting both my brain and my body, I will manage my day just fine.

Dr. Ewa Arnold: The best sleep environment is a cool, dark room. Have a regular routine — try to go to bed at approximately the same time each night. And reserve the bedroom for two activities only — sex and sleeping.

Dr. Jesper Brickley: Sexual activity is one of the best ways to encourage sleep. It has so many physical and emotional benefits. When it's time to sleep, keep the bedroom as dark as possible. If you can't sleep, get out of bed and do something like reading to relax.

Jorda Daigneault, Family Nurse Practitioner: Avoid alcohol. Instead, I drink Sleepy Time tea. It has herbs that relax you and are good for your stomach. Reading in bed for a few minutes (a book, not on an electronic device) always puts me to sleep!

Dr. Maurice Geurts: Sleep in a dark, quiet bedroom (not much of a problem in Vermont!). Have a regular bedtime.

Natalie Harding, Physician Assistant: Do 30 minutes of yoga before bed. Meditation can also help.

Dr. Elizabeth Linder (Pediatrician): Kids benefit from a regular bedtime routine. Turning off the TV, the phone, and the computer an hour or two before bedtime helps. And the old tried-and-true method is still one of the most effective ones: read a bedtime story together.

Dr. Moss Linder: A regular exercise routine during the day will help you sleep better at night. Try to walk 30 minutes a day, walking outside as much as possible. Develop a regular practice of deep breathing. Dr. Andrew Weil has a method called the 4-7-8 technique that is remarkably effective. The basic idea is to inhale to a count of four, hold the breath in for a count of seven, and slowly exhale for a count of eight. You can look it up online.

Devan Lucier, Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: Avoid taking naps during the day as much as possible. If you are napping on a regular basis, see your medical provider to find out why you are so tired all the time. And if you tend to lie in bed watching the clock, hide the clock!

Louise McDevitt, Family Nurse Practitioner: Chronic insomnia can lead to a host of other problems, including cardiovascular issues and hypertension. If insomnia lasts more than a couple of months, it's important to see your medical provider and identify the cause. It could be related to anxiety, excess weight, sleep apnea, interactions with over-the-counter medications, genetics, or other reasons. Each cause needs to be addressed differently.

Dr. Timothy Shafer: Get some exercise daily. You will sleep better. Have a regular schedule of bedtime and rising. No caffeine after mid-day. Prolonged TV watching, reading in bed, or going on-line in bed leads to insomnia. Don't go to bed until you are ready to sleep.

Benjamin Wright, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Dr. Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 breathing technique is very helpful for sleep and for stress. I use this with patients as a stress reduction practice. If you do it regularly, it becomes a habit that can kick in naturally to help you relax.

Grace Cottage Family Health is a federally-designated Rural Health Clinic that has been certified by the National Committee of Quality Assurance as a Level 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home, the highest level achievable. Grace Cottage's primary care providers offer family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics, urology, and mental health services.


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