Stress Solutions

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by Susan Andrews, PhD

Improved Sleep Reduces Stress, Improves Health

A recent article in the Healthcare Journal of New Orleans on The Art & Science of Sleep caught my eye this month. So many of us are burning the midnight oil trying to finish up reports and work for 2018. This article contained good “evidence-based tips for improving sleep quality.” Since everyone’s time is short these days, it is sometimes helpful to read a summary of key points instead of having to read a longer piece.

Have you noticed how many adults and kids go to bed with their phones. Kids are playing games up until parents force light out. Adults are reading email and new stories until their eyes force them to put it down. It is actually harder for most people to fall asleep if they are still pumping excess cortisol through their systems. It is harder to empty your mind and stop thinking under those circumstances. An important tip is to try to stop all games and reading at least 30 minutes before you hope to fall asleep.

Sleep is so important for losing weight, keeping your immune system healthy, and keeping your energy level up to the challenges of the new day. I was surprised at some of the “evidence-based” tips to improve sleep quality. The author of the article is Erin Baldwin and a good reference list from peer-reviewed journals is offered at the end of the article. These tips are derived from the 11 referenced journal articles.

Tip 1: Reduce exposure to blue light before bed and increase exposure to natural light during the day. This tip has to do with the effects of light exposure on the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin levels need to rise at night and drop in the morning. Exposure to light before bed suppresses melatonin secretion. Red light does not interfere with melatonin as much as blue light (sunlight and smart phone light) does. So, refrain from using electronics at least 30 minutes prior to bed. (Figuero & Rea, J. of Endocrinology, 2010)

Tip 2: Allow your core temperature to drop before bed. Warming your feet with socks can help. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a bedroom temperature of 65 degrees. Keep your head cool to help alleviate insomnia. (Nature 1999; Nofzinger et al, J. Clin Sleep Med 2006)

Tip 3: Make your bedroom a sacred place. Think of the classical conditioning work of Pavlov and his dogs.

Tip 4: Stick to a Sleep Schedule.

Tip 5: Wind down before bed. Allow your mind to slow down. Stop worrying over problems that make it hard to shut down thinking about. Listen to soft music or do a meditation. The article suggests using a drop of Lavender essential oil on your pillow or rub some into your hands and inhale from cupped hands.

Tip 6: Rethink your sleeping position. Alight and elongate your body, no joint stress.

Tip 7: Cut back on nighttime use of alcohol and anti-anxiety medications. While both cause you to fall asleep faster, they also decrease your sleep quality later in the night. Benzos can disrupt the normal sleep cycle and suppress REM sleep. (Pagel & Parnes, J. Clin Psychiatry 2001)

Tip 8: Reduce Stress. This is almost redundant, but the article highlights the value of regular physical exercise a few hours before bedtime.

Have a restful and happy holiday.

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