Find the answers to your biggest sleep questions…
Like millions of other people, I have spent much of the past few weeks in isolation at home with my family, because of the coronavirus epidemic.
If you do the same, you’re probably feeling a little restless, just like me. But this downtime also gave me a great opportunity to reflect on some of the most frequently asked questions I get daily – and I wanted to share some answers with you this week.
Whether it’s having nightmares or knowing what to do with your teenager to sleep, here are some questions I hear regularly. Here they are:
1 – I have trouble falling asleep at night. Do you have any tips for falling asleep faster?
This is perhaps the most frequently asked question about sleep. And luckily, I have a few things you can try.
First, always think about melatonin. Melatonin is the engine of sleep. I recommend taking 1 to 1.5 milligrams of melatonin about half an hour before bed, especially for those in their 50s and 60s when melatonin production drops. Also, make sure your sleeping environment is dark; it may sound like an easy decision, but light interferes with melatonin production. By keeping your bedroom as dark as possible, paired with a little melatonin before bed, you’re already off to a good start.
In addition, to reach a state of unconsciousness, your heart rate must oscillate close to 60 beats per minute. But sometimes after a long day, it’s difficult to relax even when we are trying to relax in bed. For this, I normally turn to the 4-7-8 breathing method. We breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds. It flushes all the carbon dioxide out of your lungs, brings all the fresh oxygen to your heart, and helps lower your heart rate. It’s a technique often used by snipers in the military, and I’ve found it to be a great way to fall asleep.
And to help you stay asleep at night, you may take some raw honey before bed. I know you are probably thinking, “Raw honey? How will that help?” It turns out that raw honey is very difficult to metabolize, so it keeps your blood sugar stable and helps you stay asleep. This should help cut down on those nightly arousals where you end up sneaking into the pantry for a midnight snack.
2 – What is the best way to deal with nightmares?
Nightmares are harsh. Everyone knows that feeling of waking up in the middle of the night, anxious, breathless, heart-pounding, and mind racing. It’s not a pleasant feeling – and it can be a real chore to get back to sleep.
As a general rule of thumb, when you wake up in the middle of the night, I recommend that you try to fall back to sleep as quickly as possible unless you wake up to use the bathroom. Nightmares are the exception, however.
You may think of nightmares as chapters in a book; when you wake up from a nightmare, it’s like folding the page and walking away for a few minutes. But when you try to go back to sleep immediately, your mind goes back to the “page” it was on. It’s not ideal, and that’s why I say it’s better to get up for a little while and occupy your mind. Find something that might distract you a bit, whether it’s reading a book or just breathing for a few minutes to change your state of mind. That way, when you go back to sleep, your mind will start a new “chapter”.
Other useful options include the 4-7-8 method mentioned above and counting down from 300 to 3.
3 – It’s hard for me to get 8 hours of sleep in a row. Can I cut off some of my sleep?
The short answer is yes – but there are a few stipulations to keep in mind. The main thing to consider is that sleep is in cycles of about 90 minutes. That’s why I support the repression against breaking your sleep into two 4-hour blocks. Instead, shoot for 4.5 hours or 6 hours of sleep at a time and then find time during the day for a nap.
4 – How important is my mattress to sleep well?
There’s no doubt that your mattress plays an important role in getting a good night’s sleep.
I consider sleep as a performance activity. If you have the right equipment, you are preparing for success. You wouldn’t be running a marathon in sandals, would you? The same goes for sleep – you want to have a mattress that will help you get the best sleep.
The two key elements to remember for a perfect mattress are comfort and support.
5 – My teenager loves to sleep. Should I let him sleep or force him out of bed?
I surprise a lot of parents when I tell them this: let your kids sleep. Now I don’t talk during the week. Obviously, they have to go to school, go swimming early in the morning or many other things. But on the weekends, let them sleep. Believe me, it’s not a waste of time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that teens get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night. Children need sleep to grow and heal, and that’s exactly what they do when they sleep. However, finding those 8-10 hours each night can be difficult during the week, so it’s even more important for them to get some sleep on the weekends.
However, there are still some basic rules. I support the choice of one day as a sleep day on the weekends. I prefer Saturday because it comes after your teen has just finished a week of school and activities. I also recommend avoiding consecutive sleep days on Saturdays and Sundays. The reason? If you sleep on both days, your biological clock will also want to wake up late on Monday. There’s still a little leeway; you can add an extra hour to the time you normally wake up on Sunday, but try to keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible when it’s not your designated sleep day.
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