Getting good sleep is one of the best things that you can do for your body. Dr. Kimberly Schelling, a primary care physician in Boston at Tufts Medical Center, provides a background on why sleep is so important, tips for great sleep hygiene and steps you should take if you're having trouble sleeping.
Q: Why is sleep so important? How does it affect overall health and quality of life?
A: Getting good sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health. While you're asleep, your body and mind rest, restore and repair themselves. Poor sleep can lead to fatigue, weight gain, depression, anxiety, poor concentration, increased body pain and a general feeling of being unwell.
Q: What is considered "good sleep hygiene?"
A: To sleep better and have good sleep hygiene, you should try to follow the below tips:
- No caffeine after 2pm. Caffeine can affect the hormones that drive sleep and delay your natural sleep cycle so keeping it early in the day will affect your ability to sleep less.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages before bedtime. Alcohol is another common substance that can affect the natural sleep cycle making it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime. Exercising after work is common for many people, but try to get the workout in before 1-2 hours prior to bedtime. If you can only work out at night, try to avoid an overly strenuous workout routine and stay hydrated. Exercise is great for sleep but some may find a vigorous workout has the opposite effect. In the end, listen to your body and your pillow on this one.
- Regulate your bedroom. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and remove or block any distracting lights
- Silence or remove the technology. If possible, remove smartphones and tablets from the bedroom or set them to "do not disturb" mode.
- Make your bed a sacred space. Do not watch TV, listen to music, read or work in bed. Limit your bed to sleeping only. Trouble sleeping can be very stressful and many people who are chronic sufferers start getting anxious when they go to bed because of the fear of not being able to sleep. You don’t want to associate your bed with anything but sleep. You should only get into bed when you are sleepy. If you enjoy reading or watching tv do this in an easy chair or another room prior to sleep—not in bed.
- Consider your medications. Review your medications with your doctor, including over-the-counter medications, supplements and herbal medications. Your doctor can help you ensure that you aren't taking anything stimulating prior to bedtime.
Q: What should you do if you're having prolonged trouble sleeping?
A: If you are having trouble sleeping and it is affecting your daily life, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor. Many of my colleagues at Tufts Medical Center Primary Care Boston are now accepting new patients. Your primary care doctor can review your sleep routine and see if there are simple fixes that you can make to help improve your sleep patterns. Your doctor can also ensure that there is not a medical problem that is impacting your sleep, like depression, sleep apnea or pain. At Tufts Medical Center, we have a Sleep Medicine Center right on our Boston campus, which provides more in-depth sleep studies, diagnoses and treatment plans.