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How Much Sleep Are You Getting?

We spend a third of our lives doing it and without it our brains and bodies could not accomplish much of anything at all. Seven hours a night (the adult average) nourishes your body for the rest of the day, as much as healthy food or an adequate supply of water. But the ability to fall asleep - and have a restful, productive sleep - can elude us. What might seem so simple proves difficult for many, with far-reaching consequences.

Some simple adjustments to daily life and your bedroom can guide you from “eyes wide open” to dreamland, keeping you healthier, happier, and more productive.

During the day, we can turn to caffeine, sugar and other stimulants to keep us going. Unfortunately they are sabotaging your best asset for energy - a restful night’s sleep. It depends on the individual metabolism, but stimulants can remain in your system for hours and affect the body’s ability to relax and drift off at night.

Limiting caffeinated drinks, alcohol (a diuretic), and heavy meals in the evening prepares the body for a restful slumber. Try green tea or decaf and a light snack (particularly carbohydrates) if hunger is distracting you while you’re trying to fall asleep. Keep it simple, in small amounts, and avoid these sleep-stealing culprits.

Experts recommend a full hour of downtime before climbing into bed; unfortunately not everyone can achieve that. If you have thirty minutes, put the time to good use. Yoga poses and deep breathing exercises will help erase a stressful day and evening, particularly if you haven’t had time to unwind sufficiently before bedtime. Getting into good sleep habits such as nightly relaxation, a set sleep and wake time (even on the weekends), and a preparation routine will cue your natural instincts that it’s time to rest. For times when life interferes with routine, have a simpler version of the longer process to fall back on. This will cut out any anxiety on “missing your cues.”

No matter how relaxed or sleepy a person is, a poorly designed bedroom can erase all those good intentions. If you’re having trouble falling (and staying) asleep, do a check of the room to see what might be distracting you.

Light is a powerful body cue, so a dark room is your best ally in a good night’s sleep. Heavy drapes tightly pulled shut are the first step to keep morning rays from waking you before the alarm goes off. Speaking of the alarm - it’s most definitely a requirement for most, but those big blinking numbers seem ten feet tall and bright as the sun when you’re trying to sleep. Turn your clock to face the wall so you can’t see the face but can still reach the alarm buttons.

Most experts agree that televisions and computers hamper our relaxation and should be removed from the bedroom. If that’s impossible, place them in a piece of furniture with a door you can close to block out the screen (even powered down they can be a subconscious distraction - you’re thinking about work and other stimulating activities instead of resting). Another idea is to place them on swivel turntable so you can turn them away from your bed.

A power strip should hold all the electronics items (save the alarm) so you can shut everything down - no power hum or flickering lights to distract.

Even the quietest street produces jarring noises. Invest in a white noise machine, (a fan or air conditioner works as well) if these incidences occur frequently and disrupt sleep. These are also helpful if your bed partner is a snorer; besides advising medical attention (to make sure it isn’t a serious disorder such as sleep apnea), ear plugs can be your best friend.

As with most new habits, the best idea is to start small and build on what works. Once you’ve hit on the right combination, you’ll be sleeping restfully every night.

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