March is fun for a few reasons. Exciting basketball, green beer, and a confused body clock. Wait, that’s not fun. March is when we attempt to shake off the winter doldrums and see the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of daffodils and light sweater-weather. Daylight Saving Time robs us of a precious hour of rest we won’t see again until fall, and our sleep cycles get all cattywampus.
But sleep issues aren’t just a seasonal problem. It’s estimated that over 60 million Americans suffer from short-term (a few days or weeks) or long-term (more than a month) insomnia. Most cases of chronic insomnia are secondary, which means they are a symptom or side effect of some other problem, such as stress, grief, food- or medicine-related.
We’ve all heard the standard ‘sleep hygiene’ tips about avoiding caffeine, using room-darkening shades, and going to bed at the same time every night. Here are a few other ideas worth considering.
“Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions – such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression – which threaten our nation’s health.”
~ The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Taking a nap during the day can be great for productivity and fabulous for health, but you’ve got to do it right. Aim to nap for 20 to 25 minutes, any longer than that and you’ll feel groggy when you wake up and you risk not being able to fall asleep when it’s bedtime.
Establish an evening routine that is calming and relaxing.
We humans are habitual creatures. How you wrap up your day can greatly impact the quality of sleep you receive. Getting your body and mind on the same page that it’s time to wind down is half the battle. Finish the day with warm bath or shower, a cup of tea (decaf, of course!), lower the temperature in your room, and turn out the lights. Establishing a routine can trigger a natural response that tells the body, “it’s time for bed, and, sleep.”
Cool things down a bit.
Take a warm (not hot) shower or bath about an hour before bedtime, and keep your room cool at night. The drop in body temperature signals your body to calm so you’ll fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.
We’re doing this already, but chances are good you’re not taking slow, deep, deliberate breaths. Deep breathing evokes the relaxation response, taking your body and mind out of the state of “fight or flight” you’ve been in throughout the day. A few slow, deep breaths can help greatly to settle you down and quiet your mind.
Say adios to technology – well before bedtime.
Okay, so you’ve heard this one. But it’s the most important and the least followed piece of advice. Get an old-fashioned alarm clock so you don’t need to use your phone. Turn your phone, iPad, Kindle, or whatever you’ve got off, and put the devices in another room. Yes, a whole other room. It’s time to exile technology from your bedroom altogether. You may think that a phone on silent, hanging out on your nightstand, won’t disturb your rest, but it will. Just knowing it’s there puts your body on alert. It’s far too tempting to reach over and “just check a few emails” (or, worse, “let me just pin a few things on Pinterest” – am I right?) if you do wake up in the middle of the night. Save yourself. Break this habit.
Massage. Massage. Massage.
There I said it. Massage is HUGE when it comes to improving your sleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have found massage to be beneficial for insomnia-related stress, as well as:
- Digestive disorders
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Paresthesias and nerve pain
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ)
Massage can not only increase relaxation and lower your fatigue, but it can reduce pain and improve your quality of sleep. Which can also help restore your sleep pattern. Our need for sleep has dramatically increased with the more technology available and the busier our schedules get. Massage is a great way to fulfill that need. In effort to celebrate Sleep Awareness Week, schedule a massage and be on your way to a better night’s sleep.