By: Jennifer Ripepi, MD
Sleep is really important, isn't it? Many of us have been sleep deprived for various reasons and lengths of time in our lives. We know how much better we feel when we've had a good night's sleep or a refreshing nap. Let's look at some ways to welcome the sandman into our homes to help our families have a sleep inducing environment for overall better health. I'll just touch on three factors that I recommend to my patients to help them to sleep better at night. These are tips I wish I knew when our children were young. I felt like between them not sleeping and frequently getting phone calls during the night, I never got enough rest. You can bet I'm catching up now!
- Bedrooms should be dark. We are adapted to be active during the day and let our massive brains sleep and recover at night. Our eyes are very sensitive to light but our world now is full of light. Many people have even brought more light into their bedrooms with TVs, computers, phones, and electronic tablets which all emit light that stimulates the primitive parts of our brains to perceive that it's still daytime. When our brains think this, we produce less melatonin (our sleep-inducing hormone). This may cause you to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Even when your eyes are closed you can sense light through your eyelids. Choosing to keep electronics off and lights dimmed for the hour before bed will help your brain produce melatonin.
- People also sleep better when bedrooms are cooler. Again, night is generally cooler than day on our Earth. We have been outside for most of our time as humans. It is only recently that we have been able to control our indoor climates. Even just a few degrees cooler is better for sleep. Choose to turn down the thermostat (if you can) and even think about cracking a window open a bit if it's safe for you. That fresh air may just be the ticket to improve sleep.
- Quiet. Silence is golden when it comes to helping our brains to fall asleep. I want to revisit the idea that we have changed our environment significantly. Our bodies developed into our present amazing form while we were living out in the wild. We needed quiet in order to be roused if there was any disturbance in the area which could be harmful to us or our families. Our modern brains still need that quiet both to respond immediately to danger and to rest and recover from our daytime tasks. Again, keeping electronics out of the bedroom and keeping sounds to a minimum can help.
If sleep is a problem for you or your family, I encourage you to try keeping your evening a little darker, a little quieter and calmer, and maybe a little cooler for about two to three weeks. Maybe it won't be a miracle cure but maybe it can help at least a bit.
What helps you fall asleep at night? How about your children?