While adults require about seven and a half hours of shut-eye each night, Americans get an average of 6.9 hours – almost an hour less than just a few decades ago. To reverse the trend, try these 4 steps.
Find your ideal bedtime
Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day is the first rule of sleep hygiene. Make sure that the hours you spend snoozing are truly restorative. To wake up refreshed, most people need to go through five 90 minute sleep cycles a night. Since life’s demands often determine the time you have to be up, the key is to hit the hay at the best possible time for you – subtract 7.5 hours from the time your alarms set to go off. For example if you aim to get up at 7:30 am, turn out the lights a few minutes before midnight, so you leave yourself a little window for falling asleep. If you jump up before your alarm, even by a few minutes, there’s your bedtime. If not, keep climbing in bed earlier until you do. And while 7.5 hours is a good guideline, bear in mind that everyone’s circadian cycle (that is, the internal clock that tells you when to go to sleep and when to wake up within a 24-hour period) is a little different. We like our expectant mamas in bed closer to 10:30pm. Play with your bedtime until you’ve found a fit that works for you- then stick with it.
Soothe yourself back to sleep
Snapping awake in the middle of the night is a common problem during times of stress- or for pregnant mamas and new parents whose young children tend to wake themselves. But trying too hard to nod off again can just make things worse. To rest easy, try these tips.
- If you can’t shut your mind off, count backwards from 300 by threes – you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else. Plus, the exercise is boring enough to be inherently sleep-inducing.
- Before you go to bed, turn your alarm clock around; seeing the time can trigger anxiety.
- Try deep, abdominal breathing: inhale to a count to five, pause for three seconds, then exhale for five. The practice helps normalize heart rate and blood pressure and decreases the production of stress hormones. After eight repetitions, you will begin to feel the calming effects.
- Try a mini meditation: visualize yourself sleeping peacefully, and quietly repeating a calming sound, word, phrase or prayer.
Make the sleep-health connection
Sometimes, poor sleep suggests an underlying health problem, such as sleep apnea (abnormal breathing pauses) or gastroesphogeal reflux disease (GERD a back up of stomach contents into the esophagus). So if you’re regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, see a doctor.
- You fall asleep before your head hits the pillow- yes literally. It could be a sign of exhaustion, but it’s also a symptom of sleep apnea.
- You don’t want up refreshed, even after plenty of sleep.
- Your partner says that you stop breathing or move your legs a lot during the night.
- You wake up with leg cramps, headaches, or dry mouth.
Try a sleep aid
Whether because of stress, illness – or something inexplicable- you might occasionally need sleep aids (CPAP for sleep apnea, or sleeping pills for insomnia or stress), but natural remedies come up with few side effects and may help you get to the root of your tossing and turning. Taking a B-vitamin supplement early in the day may make it easier to get to sleep. Alternative medicine Review notes in one small study, taking Niacinamide (B3) resulted in a significant increase in REM (the dream stage of sleep). The natural remedy with the most data is Valerian, it’s an anti-anxiety agent shown to help people fall – and stay- asleep. As with any supplement, you need your doctors OK to avoid interactions with other medications. When simple swaps aren’t enough, the next most effective approach is behavior therapy and we recommend seeing a sleep specialist- we love Dr. Rachel Salas at John Hopkins Sleep Center. Sleep and satisfaction was longer lasting with cognitive behavioral therapy than with pharmaceuticals.