Sleep. In my life, she has been the ever illusive, hard to get mistress. Even in high school I remember staying up to read because I couldn’t sleep, trying different sleep patterns and routines to find one that worked for me, changing out mattresses and pillows to optimize comfort and support. It’s been a long journey. I thought maybe residency had cured me of this long yearned for relationship (being able to sleep easily and through the night) but alas, once the 80-hour work weeks stopped, by nagging friend insomnia came back to hang out. But, my journey can hopefully make a good blog post! Let’s discuss some things that can hinder you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Cellphones (incl screen time- TVs, laptops, tablets, etc etc): Ahhhhhh the mobile device. In so many ways it has made our lives easier. We have constant access to food, the internet, email, each other, basically the world. For sleep though, this is public enemy #1. The blue back light sends signals to the brain to wake up, instead of shutting things down. It also screws with melatonin, which is the chemical that regulates a healthy sleep/ wake cycle. Also, most of the things we are doing on the phone are stimulants- ie checking Facebook or writing an email, it sends more signals to think, activate, wake up, etc. For better sleep hygiene screen time should be limited (or non-existent) 1-2 hours before bed. Ideally the phones, TVs, laptops shouldn’t even make it to the bedroom. If this isn’t feasible, there are settings to dim the blue light which can help sleep hygiene.
Diet: Diet is a big one. This includes the food we eat, as well as what we drink before bed. Eating too close to bedtime, or eating food that’s heavy, greasy, salty can really disrupt sleep. Alcohol, though it may help us fall asleep, causes disruptions in the REM cycles and can often leave you feeling sluggish and worn out the next day. Even drinking too much water before bed means getting awakened by “nature’s call” in the middle of the night. And of course, that after dinner cup of Joe. Caffeine stays in the system for 4-6 hours, so drinking any coffee, soda, tea after about 3pm is asking for sleep troubles.
Temperature: This was something I learned (and was surprised by) during one of my “how can I sleep better” google searches. Ideal bedroom temperature should be between 60-67 degrees. I tend to be cold before I get hot, and I would leave the thermostat off or on heat mode for the majority of the time. Now, I cool my bedroom off during the day so when I crawl into bed the room is a bit chilly. But, this really has helped me sleep through the night. (Side bar: I am a huge proponent of exercise, but exercising too close to bed can also throw off our internal body thermometer and lead to sleep disruptions! Keep that in mind when considering an evening run!)
Guests: Bedroom guests can be fun! But they can also disrupt the quality of sleep. Pets and children tend to top the list of bedroom guest offenders. Maybe the couples of the 50s had it right, sleeping in those twin separate beds probably gave them a better night of sleep and maybe that’s why they weren’t as stressed? Anyway, I digress. Even though cuddling with the little ones (either human or furry) can be a precious moment, it can also really affect sleep patterns.
Snoring: Nobody wants to be a snorer. It’s not the most sexy thing to be told “Hey, do you know you sound really loud at night? And make really unattractive noises while you sleep?” The next time someone tells you this though, give them a big hug, thank them for letting you know, and get tested for sleep apnea (the fancy term for snoring). Snoring is actually a mechanism of abnormal breathing while sleeping. With every snore there’s a diminished oxygen supply sent to the lungs and subsequently the brain doesn’t get the air it needs. This causes the body to wake up multiple times throughout the night, which in turn means poor sleep quality. It is amazing how much better people feel when they get a proper diagnosis and also get treated for sleep apnea. (Side bar: Pregnancy makes everything swollen, including the nasal passages. Even if you were never a snorer in your life, your bed partner may not be lying when they say you are now. It is very important to get this checked because chronic or bad snoring in pregnancy can actually lead to things like preterm labor, pre term delivery, growth restricted babies, and fetal distress.)
Remember to always touch base with your physician to explore other options for healthy sleeping, and what personal barriers maybe present in your world. I hope this post was informative and didn’t put you to sleep! Happy dreaming.