Last month a visitor from afar, from the land of sunshine, leis and coconuts paid a visit to Cordova. She gave a lecture on sleep wellness at Cordova Community Medical Center.
The advice was sound, and if your sleep is not, I would recommend paying attention to the following advice.
It was excerpted from a book she co-authored called Herbs & Nutrients for Neurological Disorders. As a family medicine doc, I hear on a weekly basis revelations of those who don’t sleep well; those who either have difficulty falling asleep, mind racing with thoughts or anxiety, or waking up at what I have come to call “the witching hour” around 3:30 a.m. with the same difficulty.
Some poor souls have both issues. Sheryl Shook, with her doctorate in neuroscience, along with a neurologist co-author, made these recommendations based on credible research.
- During the early morning, get a little sunlight, or if you live in Cordova, turn on your SAD light for about 30 minutes. Get daily exercise and avoid caffeine after noon. And that’s not afternoon — as in 4 p.m. — it is after noon. And, yes, that includes chocolate.
- Something often overlooked: if you are having difficulty sleeping or not getting restful sleep, avoid alcohol within five hours of bedtime. Alcohol, although it may relax you, interferes with important REM sleep, so your sleep quality is poorer and you’ll find yourself waking in the witching hour.
- Take a 10-20 minute nap around 2 p.m. Our southern neighbors have it right with the siesta. Unfortunately it is not easy to do if you have a traditional job. Also, nicotine is an infamous enemy of sleep. It is best to stop, but if you continue to smoke, try not to smoke five hours before bedtime
- At bedtime, form a relaxing ritual that does not involve electronics 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep. Avoid light from bright lamps, iPads and cellphones within an hour of bedtime as this disrupts melatonin. If you do use your laptop, tablet or cell phone extensively at night, use a light filter such as f.lux. When you get settled in bed, try a relaxation/meditation technique such as a “body scan” where you focus on each part of your body from head to toes, relaxing each area as you progress down your muscle groups. Practice slow, deep breathing while you do this if this is beneficial to your relaxation. This can be done in three to five minutes and sometimes you will be asleep before you finish.
- Lastly, make your room a good setting for sleep. Keep your room completely dark and cool, between 65 and 72 degrees. Do not use your bed for working, Facebook, television, etc. Make sure your room is quiet or use white noise (fan, ocean waves, rain) to mask sounds. Position your clock so it is not visible during the night, and do not check the time if you wake up. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even weekends. If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and read a medical journal — it will put you right to sleep. I have some you can borrow if you need one.
Seriously, leaving the room, reading and/or eating a light snack if it is the middle of the night can sometimes help you fall asleep or fall back asleep. It is best not to pick up your cell phone or tablet because of the disruptive lighting effects of these devices. Shoot for eight hours of sleep a night, but not everyone requires that much, and some require more.
If you want more great tips and research about sleep, check out sleepfoundation.org or sleep.org for more information about how to get good and restful sleep. And if you get a chance, check out the book co-authored by Sheryl Shook. A copy should be in our library post haste — as soon as I return it.
Dr. Kristel Rush is the medical director at Ilanka Community Health Center in Cordova. Rush is a family medicine doctor who is a Tennesseean by birth, but Alaskan by heart. She first came to Alaska in 1996, and has been captivated ever since. She trained in rural medicine at Quillen College of Medicine in Tennessee and community medicine at Wake Forest, in Winston-Salem, NC.
If you are interested in one-on-one consultations for sleep wellness, Dr. Shook will be doing those (via phone) in the near future. You can see her detailed handouts, listen to the interview from NPR, and set up a consultation from her website: yourbalancedhealing.com