Health and Wellness

Six Steps for Getting Better Sleep —and Why It Matters to Your Overall Health

Did you know that there are six things we have control over that predict roughly 80% of the chronic illnesses we will face? These include sleep, diet, exercise, stress management, avoiding substance abuse, and finding community. It’s not necessarily a walk in the park to keep them all in check, but we do have the ability to shape our future with simple changes in these areas.

To no surprise, sleep is where it all begins. And if we’re being honest, a lot of us are having a hard time sleeping well these days. Our schedules and routines have been disrupted, and most of us are experiencing increased anxiety around the unknowns of life in a pandemic. Those two ingredients are a powerful recipe for a sleep deficiency or even insomnia.

And the truth is that even before COVID-19 upended our lives, less than 70% of people were getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep that we need every night.

Of course, merely functioning is the minimum requirement for our daily lives.

There’s an epidemic of what sleep experts call “presenteeism,” which means showing up for your responsibilities in life, but not being nearly as productive as you could be. In fact, a recent JAMA study released in September 2020 proved that low sleep correlates with low cognitive function — those with less than four hours or more than ten hours of sleep declined significantly faster than those getting seven hours of sleep each night. Too little sleep also makes us irritable and causes headaches, stomach troubles, anxiety and depression, and even increases our risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

And, frankly, as we navigate pandemic living, we need to be functioning as well as possible just to weather the ups and downs. Getting good sleep is one of the best possible ways to do that. It will give you the foundation to survive—and (dare we say it?) maybe even thrive through—the slings and arrows of 2020.

Here’s your game plan to getting there:

  • Train your body to sleep by waking up and going to bed at the same time. It can be tempting—if your commute is gone and getting ready for work consists of changing into comfy house clothes—to stay up to watch one more episode and sleep in. But keeping a consistent schedule is one of the best ways to get good sleep.
  • Teach your body that your bed equals sleep by only using it for sleep and sex. Everything else—TV, texting, working on a laptop—should go down in other rooms.
  • Let your natural melatonin do its thing. The blue light from screens disrupts this critical sleep hormone, so it can’t do its job to help you feel sleepy. Try to put your screens to bed about an hour before you need to. And turn the lights down low a few hours before bed to jump start your melatonin production.
  • Lay off libations. Alcohol and other substances like cannabis might help you fall asleep, but they soon interrupt it, keeping you from reaching the more restful phases of the sleep cycle.
  • Make your body hungry for sleep by skipping naps that can take the edge off your exhaustion and make it harder to fall asleep at night.

If you’ve made these changes and you are still having trouble, try:

  • Getting up after 20 minutes of trying to fall asleep. Turn the light on and do some light reading, stretch, or try a guided meditation. Then try again when you feel sleepy.
  • Keeping a sleep journal to track your activities before bed, how you slept and how you feel at the end of the day. That way you can see for yourself the benefits of good sleep and what might be keeping you from getting it. You can also bring it with you if you decide to ask your healthcare provider to help you solve your sleep problems.

If you’ve made these changes and are still having problems—or if you are having difficulty breathing at night, snore or have achy, tingly or restless legs—consider consulting your doctor. Those are signs of medical conditions which can be treated.

Managing your sleep is a key pillar of longevity and overall health. If you’re worried about sleep management and are seeking a way to make a change, your Care team is here to help. Open the app and ask for a Sleep Care visit to speak to a doctor, nurse practitioner, or nurse now.

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