Way to a Longer Life with New Sleep Rules

By: Edward L. Schneider, Dean, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, MD

New Sleep Rule #1: Put a Good Night’s Sleep on Your Daily Calendar

It sounds obvious, but it’s advice many of us need: You need to set aside the time to sleep. Just as you make time for work, family, play, exercise, community, spirituality, and friends, you need to write sleep into your schedule. A study in Sweden found that of the people who suffered from sleep deprivation, only half had actual difficulty sleeping. The other half simply didn’t allow themselves a full night’s sleep.

Assess Yourself, Using the AgeLess Sleep Journal.

You probably know what your bank balance is – but when was the last time you checked on your sleep deficit? My students are often surprised when they compare their perception of their sleep habits to hard reality. To assess your current sleep adequacy, make an AgeLess Sleep Journal to track your actual sleeping patterns for a week. You need a table (or spreadsheet) with the days of the week in the first column, and the following headings for the eight columns across:

  • Bedtime (under the covers) – enter the actual time
  • Time to fall asleep – ‘fast’ if a few mins, ‘medium’ up to 15′, ‘slow’ if over 15′
  • Estimated asleep time – enter the estimated time
  • Estimated time awake during the night – enter the minutes or hours
  • Time arose from bed – enter the actual time
  • Total hours asleep – estimated asleep time to rising time, minus time awake
  • Wanted more? – enter ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘a little’, etc
  • Quality of sleep – excellent, good, fair, or poor

New Sleep Rule #2: Make Adjustments for Changes in Sleep Patterns to Get Enough Sleep Throughout

Even the most health-conscious among us don’t give sleep its due as a component of health. Many of us started burning the midnight oil in college, studying for that final or finishing up that paper, figuring we’d makeup for it the next day. We got away with it, then, didn’t we? Well, folks, if you’re over 30, those days are gone. Though you need as much sleep as ever, your ability to get it diminishes as nature begins to take back the gift of sleep she bequeathed in youth. Natural changes in brain wave activity begin to alter the shape of the sleep architecture. You spend less time in restorative deep sleep (stages three and four) and your first round of REM dreamtime shortens. It takes longer to fall asleep, and stress, the sound of traffic noise, or even the glow of your clock’s digital display may be enough to wake you. Your circadian rhythms can also change, waking you up earlier and making it hard to get back to sleep. If you’re like most people, you ignore these developments, suffering through sleepy days for long enough that you forget what full alertness feels like. The first step in responding to these changes is to understand that even though sleep does slip away with age, there are things you can do to get it back.

New Sleep Rule #3: Sleep Problems Can and Should be Treated

Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep that results in tiredness the next day – but insomnia is not a disease that causes sleeplessness. It’s a symptom of physical, psychological, or environmental factors that are keeping you awake. If you’ve despaired that you “have” insomnia, it may be reassuring to learn that many of its causes can be addressed with simple behavioral and environmental measures.

The main causes of insomnia are emotions – stress, worry, or excitement – schedule or time zone changes, and a poor sleeping environment. Some highly alert people are more sensitive to these variables than others, and we all experience different degrees of such disruptions at different times of life.

In addition to normal age-related sleep changes are actual sleep disorders – physiological sleep disruptions that aren’t considered normal. The two conditions of greatest concern to doctors and sleepers are sleep-disordered breathing (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD) and ‘restless legs’ syndrome. Diseases such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, asthma or other pulmonary disease, esophageal reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid conditions, peptic ulcer disease, dementia, prostate enlargement, and urinary incontinence can also disrupt your sleep cycle. If you think you might have any these disorders, talk to your doctor about how your condition is affecting your sleep. Some simple measures can usually help counter the sleep disturbances posed by medical conditions.

Here are the key practices that support sweet dreams:

Keep to a schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including weekends. If your schedule changes, gradually adjust your routine over a number of days to give your body time to adapt.
Go to bed to sleep. Don’t let yourself fall asleep in front of the TV or reading in your favorite chair. Be firm with yourself. Don’t lie down to watch TV if you know you’ll drift off to sleep.
Use the bed only for sleep. That’s right, no more reading in bed. Create a cozy nook in another room for reading and watching TV if you’re used to doing these things in the comfort of bed. Exception: Amorous activities are allowed.
Don’t nap. My advice is to not take naps, but there are times when a nap may be an important safety measure (if you feel drowsy and must drive, for instance). You may also be a good sleeper who welcomes a nap after being kept up at night by a sick child or car alarm. But keep it under an hour and finish by 3:00 pm.
Limit caffeine. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, set your personal cutoffs for quantity and time. People have different responses, so use your sleep journal to track yours. You may find that you can enjoy a few cups of coffee as long as you stop by 4:00 pm, for instance, or that you need to stick to one cup and drink it before noon in order to get a good night’ s sleep.
Avoid nicotine close to bedtime and during the night, since it is a stimulant.
Finish vigorous exercise by 2 to 6 hours before bedtime; use your sleep journal to find your own window of time. Stretching or yoga is fine and may help you to relax.
Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed. If you’re hungry, try a light snack such as a piece of toast with honey, or better still, a few slices of turkey or a glass of warm milk about an hour before bedtime. Both contain L-tryptophan, a wonderful natural sleep enhancer. Milk must be heated to make the tryptophan active.
Stop drinking liquids an hour or so before bed to prevent trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Take a time-out. What if all your good sleep hygiene habits fail to send you off to slumber-land? That’s the time to take a time-out from bed.

If you don’t fall asleep after 15 minutes of trying (or of waking up in the middle of the night), get out of bed and do something quiet in another room with a light on – read, listen to soft music or a book on tape, knit, or write. Return to bed only when you feel drowsy. Repeat this time-out for every 15-minute period of wakefulness. Get up at the usual time the following morning.

You may be tired on the days following time-outs, but you would be anyway – and your breaks from the bedroom yield two lasting benefits. First, you follow your circadian rhythms so that tomorrow night’s weariness will promote sleep. Second, just saying no to lying awake in bed conditions your body and brain to sleep when you’re there – a strong behavioral link that you may never have made before. Be cautious if you’re driving or engaging in other activities requiring quick reflexes on the day after a wakeful night.

Research has found that this simple wakefulness break routine can help you overcome even chronic insomnia, provided there’ s no underlying medical disorder. It may take up to a few weeks to break your old pattern and establish a new one, but the effort and the short-term low energy days will pay off in a better sleep that can last for a (longer) lifetime.

New Sleep Rule #4: Don’t nap!

Naps are necessary for babies and tempting to grownups after a nice big lunch. Naps are also sometimes promoted as a productivity tool, with some corporations installing special nap rooms where sleepy employees can drop in for a snooze. Is this new nap consciousness good news for health-enhancing sleep?

For many people the answer is no, especially if you have any sort of sleep problems. Naps can upset your body clock, keeping you awake and alert at bedtime. And the payoff isn’t much. A nap is too short to cycle you through all the deep sleep and dream states you need to realize the benefits of sleep. Though you may feel temporarily refreshed afterward, a nap just slaps a Band-Aid on your sleep debt. At the end of the day, you lose.

And now . . .Have an AgeLess Day!

What you do all day can affect your nightly sleep. Keep these tips in mind so you can spend the night revitalizing with deep, long, healthy sleep.

– Get up at your regular time, 7 to 9 hours after you fell asleep.
– Get out into the bright daylight to set your circadian rhythms for restful sleep.
– Work out vigorously, the earlier in the day the better.
– Challenge your mind with mental activities such as reading, writing, socializing, games, analyses, and puzzles.
– Relax or meditate to relieve stress.
– Seek help for dysphoria or depression if you often feel sad or hopeless.
– Stop stimulants such as coffee or chocolate at your own cut-off time.
– Unwind in the final hour or so before bedtime. Turn off the television, turn on some soft music, dim the lights, soak in a hot bath, use relaxation or meditation techniques, and steer clear of tomorrow’s to-do list.
– Get to bed on time. If you’ve followed the preceding steps, you should feel delightfully drowsy. Sweet dreams . . .

These “New Sleep Rule” is a part of article “Sleeping Your Way to a Longer Life” which is a part of “Successful Balanced and Healthy lifestyle program“.

Others sleep articles in our website category: Healthy Sleep

Material from (29 Apr 2011): Sleeping Your Way to a Longer Life 

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About BVG Janaka dasa das

The counsellor, trainer and lecturer of Balanced and Healthy lifestyle, body, art, music, trance etc philosophy, psychology and psychotherapy. The leader of personal development and team building groups and private practice of psychotherapy.
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One Response to Way to a Longer Life with New Sleep Rules

  1. Janet Hales says:

    The articles were very helpful and challenging. Sleep is beneficial. Thanks.

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