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6 ways to sleep better, from a neurologist

Monday, July 03, 2023 10:51 AM

By NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

sleep betterFor some, falling asleep or staying asleep is an exercise in frustration.

Many people have trouble sleeping at times. It’s normal to feel restless the night before a big trip, an intimidating test, or the first day on a new job.

Not sleeping much may not seem like a significant medical problem, but there’s a reason physicians stress the importance of slumber. When sleep is difficult night after night, it can lead to other health problems.

“A short-term lack of sleep may blunt your cognitive abilities, slow your reaction time or lead to difficulty with concentration,” said Mari Viola-Saltzman, DO, neurologist and sleep medicine specialist with NorthShore University HealthSystem. “Chronic insomnia can increase one’s risk for memory loss and dementia.”

In fact, sleep deprivation has been associated with the lack of clearance of certain proteins in the brain which are involved in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

A lack of sleep is also associated with an increase in inflammatory markers in the blood which can lead to cardiovascular disease including stroke.

Of course, the amount of sleep needed varies between people, but generally adults need to sleep for at least seven hours per day.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, try these six tips to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Schedule your wake-up. Go to bed at a time that allows for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly and stick to the schedule (even on weekends). It helps create a good sleep pattern and routine if you get out of bed and start your day around the same time every morning.
  • Exercise every day. 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day will help you sleep at night. Just avoid a strenuous workout within 90 minutes of bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Cut out caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks or big meals within two hours before bed. It is also best to avoid particularly spicy, acidic foods as well as foods that are high in sugar before bed.
  • Relax. Wind down with a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine. It’s OK to watch TV, if it is in a different room and not in bed. Listening to calming music and meditation are also great. Spend 30-60 minutes unwinding like this before going to bed.
  • Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. Keep the room dark and quiet. If you’re sensitive to light, consider blackout shades on your windows. If noise disturbs you, try ear plugs or a white noise machine to block out distracting sounds. Studies have shown that the ideal temperature to fall sleep at is around 62-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, people sleep better when their core body temperature is lower; however, this varies from person-to-person, as some people find it very difficult to sleep if they are feeling cold.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing such as reading or listening to music. Once you feel tired, return to bed.

Talk with your doctor if you experience sleep problems such as snoring, daytime sleepiness or insomnia—especially if you are obese or have cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

There are various reasons people have trouble sleeping, and the first order of business is to figure out why. Once that is established, a specific treatment can be recommended by your primary care physician or a sleep specialist.

At NorthShore University HealthSystem, we understand that sleep is paramount to overall good health. Our Sleep Center offer state-of-the-art, comprehensive care for a variety of sleep disorders. Learn more.

Learn more about the NorthShore Neurological Institute.

Need a doctor? With hundreds of board-certified physicians to choose from, you’re likely to find the perfect doctor for you close by. Find a doctor at NorthShore University HealthSystem.