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Top Tips for Better Sleep from Dr. Amy Shah

Dr. Amy Shah

 

Do you have trouble sleeping? You are not alone!

These are unprecedented times. We are facing constant uncertainty on personal, community, and societal levels and unfortunately, problems with sleep are becoming increasingly prevalent as our anxiety about the future arises. As a double-board certified medical doctor and wellness expert, many of my patients are complaining about stress impacting their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. I have advised thousands of patients on how to improve their overall health by emphasizing the importance of sleep and always follow my own advice.

Remember that we are in a position to control our behaviors and decrease the impact of stress on our sleep. As I tell my patients, prioritize yourself, your habits, follow routines, and practice mindfulness to “mind your mind”. Developing healthy sleep habits is very important, as better sleep enables us to navigate stressful periods in the short-term, reduces the risk of long-term sleep problems AND gives our immune system a much-needed boost. My key takeaway is always the same:

We may not be able to control the stressors that interfere with our sleep BUT we can adopt habits that will encourage better sleep.

Some of my top tips include:

1. MIND YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS

I always speak to my patients about circadian rhythms in the context of sleep as the sleep-wake cycle, which is the pattern of time we spend awake and asleep every 24 hours. The most important role of the sleep-wake cycle is to consolidate sleep during the night which will help you stay awake and alert during the day. Aligning sleep with your natural circadian rhythms can be achieved by waking up and going to sleep at consistent times, starting your day with a brisk walk to get natural sunlight, avoiding electronics and caffeine too close to bedtime, AND keeping your bedroom dark, cool and quiet. You know that your circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle are aligned when you physically feel the need to sleep during evening hours and wake up feeling rested during hours of first daylight.

2. MIND YOUR EVENING ROUTINE

Another tip that I share with my patients is to pay extra attention to your evening routine just prior to going to sleep. Sleep disturbances may be offset by undertaking the same set of activities in the same order, every night, in the 30-50 minutes before you go to bed. Bedtime routines vary but often include calming activities like taking a warm bath, reading, journaling, or meditation. Bedtime routines can also help you connect with natural circadian rhythms as your brain can learn how to separate the day from the night, clear your mind, and really wind down for sleep. Please remember to be mindful of electronics usage as the blue light that is omitted can lead to inadvertent overstimulation. 

3. MIND YOUR MIND

Always pay attention to the worries that you are feeling during the day and try to put your mind at ease as the nighttime hours fall. A tip that I often share with my patients is to practice deep breathing during the day or jot down what is on your mind as worries come up and try to set it aside for tomorrow. Get organized, try setting priorities and delegating tasks so you do not feel overburdened. Practice mindfulness to truly understand what triggers you and how to accept whatever challenges exist in the present moment. The ability to really be aware of your thoughts and learning how to let go of those anxieties instead of ruminating on them can really set the stage for long-term sleep hygiene and overall good health.

4. MIND YOUR BODY: GET OUT AND EXERCISE

Did you know sleep and exercise are correlated in that optimizing your exercise routine can help you sleep better and getting a good night’s rest can help promote healthier physical activity levels during the day? Even moderate exercise such as a brisk walk can reduce sleep onset -- or the time it takes to fall asleep. I always advise my patients to get out and take a walk to combat daytime sleepiness. This is a win-win, as movement will impact sleep at night, and you can get some mileage on your pedometer. 

It is challenging to make many lifestyle changes BUT it is crucial to prioritize your sleep as a component of your overall health and wellbeing. Make the necessary changes to your bedtime routine, be mindful of your thoughts, get outside during the day, and seek help if you need it.  Your body, mind, and loved ones will certainly thank you.

This material provides a general overview of the topic. Health information is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment by a therapist, physician or other health care professional. Contact a health care professional with any questions or concerns about specific health care needs.