As I was tossing and turning the other night, I started thinking about how sleep has become the Holy Grail for a lot of people our age.
Whether it’s the result of menopause, stressing about retirement, anxiety over your kid’s latest relationship, or the fettucine alfredo you knew you shouldn’t have eaten, getting your zzz’s can be a challenge.
So I started reading (yep, at 3 a.m.) about tips for a better night’s rest. Here’s what I learned:
- Don’t exercise right before bedtime (unless it’s sex-ercise, which will knock you out faster than Muhammad Ali). Working out raises your body temperature and being cool, not hot, helps you sleep more soundly. (Exercising earlier in the day on a regular basis helps tire you out by bedtime.)
- Don’t watch TV, use your computer or check e-mail right before bed. Blue light from these screens signals your brain to shut off melatonin production – that’s the sleep hormone – and messes with your circadian rhythms, your normal sleep/wake body clock.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark – add shades or curtains or wear a comfy sleep mask to shut out the light.
- Use a humidifier to avoid getting congested.
- Insomniacs secrete more cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone our bodies release when we’re stressed. One way to shut down obsessive thoughts? Make your to-do list or write down stuff that’s bothering you an hour or so before bedtime. Rub your neck, arms and shoulders when you get into bed and take some deep, calming breaths to help relax.
Another trick that seems to work is to eat a little peanut butter on whole wheat toast or crackers an hour before bed. Apparently the combination of complex carbs and protein provides enough fuel to keep you from waking up hungry, but isn’t hard to digest. Plus, it boosts levels of feel-good serotonin.
Sweet dreams, my friends!
Hi A. – I love this blog and your hilarious sense of humor. On a serious note, I have been suffering from severe insomnia and it is getting worse as the years go by. I have tried everything. I recently learned that one of the main causes of insomnia in older people is cataracts because they block light coming into the eye and throw off circadian rhythms. I am going to look into getting early cataract removal. Will let you know if it works.
Makes perfect sense!
Something else which has been receiving a lot of attention in the “sleep deficit” department is the effect of staring into a computer, tablet, and phone screen right before going to sleep. The combination of being a direct light source (as opposed to indirect sources) and the tendency of these devices to emit light in the cooler (blue) sections of the color spectrum, all seem to prevent our minds from relaxing and letting go in preparation to sleep.
The antidote is obviously to not use any of these devices while trying to doze off. But in the morning if you wake up to find your iPad in the bed next to you still glowing with your current favorite literary offering or Netflix home page, don’t worry about it.
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