It's 2 a.m. and you're roused from your sleep, wide awake. You're suffering from interrupted sleep, and you're not alone—between 50 and 70 million people in the United States have some kind of sleep disorder, according to a publication from the Institute of Medicine Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research.
"A good night's sleep, anywhere between six and 11 hours, is crucial for your health," says Bertrand De Silva, MD, the medical director of
St. Jude Sleep Center who is board certified in sleep medicine, pulmonary medicine, and internal medicine and critical care. "You switch between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep throughout the night. Loss of sleep interrupts that cycle and, over time, can affect you mentally and emotionally, as well as physically."
To help you get a better night's sleep, Dr. De Silva offers these SLEEP hints:
- Set a schedule. Going to bed at a certain time each night can help your body get acclimated to winding down, making it easier to get rest. Include a wind-down period in that schedule; take a warm bath or do light reading before you go to bed. A regular wake-up time helps, too.
- Listen to your body. Your body has an internal clock that sets the patterns for sleep, and if that clock stops working, your body won't function properly. If you find yourself tired during the day, you might need an earlier bedtime. Lying in bed and watching TV or eating, instead of sleeping, can also make it more difficult to fall asleep. Other factors can cause sleep issues; for instance, older people may not need as much sleep at night but take naps during the day. A sleep diary, or just being more mindful of when you feel tired and wakeful, can help pinpoint problems.
- Environment matters. Make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature and eliminate as much noise and light as possible. If it's been a while since you bought a pillow or mattress, it may be time to invest in a new one. People who wake up because of congested sinuses or allergies find it can help to sleep with a humidifier (which can also help you sleep when you have a cold).
- Eating and Electronics—just say no. Avoid both of these before bedtime if you want to sleep well. Studies have shown that people who eat within three hours of going to bed have a much higher risk of waking up at night with acid reflux or heartburn. And the light from TVs, computers or tablets right before bed can confuse your body's sleep signals (upsetting content can keep you awake, too, so no late-night "Law and Order" marathons). There is one "E" to say yes to—regular exercise during the day has been found helpful, ideally at least five or six hours before bedtime.
- Physician evaluations can help. Physical and mental issues can be a prime cause of interrupted sleep, and can range from anxiety or thyroid disease to arthritis, urinary problems, or Parkinson's disease. Your doctor can help you determine the underlying cause for your sleep issue or, if you are on medication for a health problem, make sure that isn't interfering with your sleep.
For more information about St. Jude Medical Center, click here. For more information on Dr. De Silva, click