Indeed, there is a lot we can worry about in the world today. It can be so easy to let those problems invade our thoughts as we try to get some sleep. Ideally, our bedrooms are sanctuaries of peace and quiet and places of rest. But televisions, phones, computers, and other devices bring the world and its problems to our beds, and this is not healthy.
Sleep is one of the best ways to help keep our immune system strong to fight off infection and illnesses. And now more than ever, it is important to give our bodies the best chance at fighting off a cold, flu, and disease. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night, while teenagers and elementary children need nine to ten hours.
Regular exercise is one way to help us sleep better. It is best to exercise during the day rather than right before bedtime. We sleep better if we avoid eating large meals within two to three hours of going to bed. But this doesn’t mean we must go to bed hungry. We can reach for a small healthy snack like carrot sticks or apple slices. It can also help to keep a regular schedule and have a bedtime ritual, such as brushing our teeth after that final snack.
Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption, especially near bedtime. And when stressed, we can prepare for better sleep if we take time to relax by gentle stretching, meditation, prayer, or deep breathing.
We can help ourselves by changing our behaviors, but if we experience persistent heartburn or reflux, restless legs, snoring, daytime fatigue, or use the bathroom frequently at night, it’s time to visit the doctor for assistance.
Finally, it helps to keep the bedroom comfortable, quiet, dark, and cool. Despite all their conveniences, consider removing those electronic devices from the bedroom. Screen time before bed, whether watching television, phones or laptops is a large and growing reason for insomnia. The bright light from screens tricks our minds into thinking it is daytime so be sure to use the night filter to decrease the amount of light they emit. And, since our bedroom is meant for sleeping, why not set a firm time to turn off all the devices for the day.
“You better get up; people die in their sleep.” That’s what my dad would say when he was trying to get me out of bed as a teenager. While true, the reverse is also valid, people can die from problems stemming from lack of sleep. So, let’s get some sleep and stay healthy out there people!
Richard P. Holm, MD passed away in March 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is founder of The Prairie Doc®. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® ® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook. Andrew Ellsworth, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota.