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Getting Better Sleep – The Google Method

Posted: 30 Mar 2009 03:45 AM PDT

Many articles have been written about getting better sleep. This time, we’ll take a different approach. The people behind the (relatively) new browser from Google, Google Chrome, used an approach to tweaking that browser’s inner workings that’s divided into three parts: Basics, Minor Tweaks, and Under The Hood.

We’ll take the same approach here and apply it to how you can improve your sleep today.

The basics in sleep always have to do with the so called sleep hygiene. There are a few rules relevant to this stage. You may have heard some or all of them before, but you have to make sure you’ve covered the basics before moving on to the next stages.
  • Learn to abide your internal clock
    Our body has an internal rhythm that is called a circadian rhythm. Human beings are creatures of habit, and our internal rhythm reflects that. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day (yes, even on weekends), and your body will “learn” this routine, which will make it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

  • Avoid napping during the day
    Napping will cause your internal clock to get “confused”. If you must nap, limit the nap to no more than 45 minutes, and don’t take it after 4 pm.

  • Avoid foods that will tamper with your sleep
    This includes drinking alcohol, caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea), or fatty or spicy foods in the evening, before going to bed.

  • Keep your room as comfortable as possible for sleep
    This includes a comfortable mattress, a temperature that’s not too high or too low, and a noisy-free environment.

  • Use your bed only for sleep (and sex)
    When we use the bed for other things, our mind connects the bed with things other than sleep. When we finally get to bed for sleeping, it doesn’t have the right connection in our minds necessary to convince our brains that it’s time for sleep.
These things all require little of you, and are mostly minor things you can start doing to improve your sleep.

Minor Tweaks
These are things that require more on your part, but have been proven to improve sleep.
  • Exercise
    Apart from other known benefits of exercise, it can help you sleep better. Our body’s temperature changes during the day. We are most active when it’s the highest (typically in the late morning and early evening) and we are more sleepy as it declines at night. Exercise causes your body temperature to rise, and a few hours later to drop as a compensation for that earlier rise. The drop in temperature makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

    Since the drop in temperature occurs a few hours after exercise, it’s best to exercise within 3-6 hours of bedtime.

  • Take a bath
    A hot bath will also cause your body’s temperature to rise and fall afterward. You should take it about 2 hours before bedtime (since the temperature drops here faster) and stay in the hot water for about 25 minutes.

  • Expose yourself to the sun
    Before there was electricity, people were exposed to sunlight during the day. Our body recognizes that light as a cue for “day”, and when it’s gone it “understands” night time is coming. Inside our body, this “understanding” is done by producing a hormone called melatonin, which promotes sleep.

    Nowadays, people spend most of the day in offices or at home, where there is artificial light. Our body doesn’t recognize it as sunlight and the secretion of melatonin is changed, which makes it harder for us to get to sleep. To let your body know that it’s daytime, open the drapes or get out for a walk in the morning. Also expose your eyes to the sun before it sets.
Under The Hood
The second step required you to be active about promoting a better sleep. This step is meant for anyone who’s still having trouble after trying the above methods.
  • Artificial light
    Some of us, for many reasons (no time, no ability), just can’t get exposed to sunlight during the day. For these people artificial bright light boxes were invented. They contain special bulbs that produce a light strong enough to convince our mind to think it’s daytime. You can find many on the Internet. Look for lights that produce 5,000-10,000 lux (that’s the unit the light in these boxes is measured by).

  • Manage stress
    Our daily lives can be hectic. Working full time, managing a house, a family, personal issues. All can take a toll on our sleep at the end of the day. Stress worsens sleep. Learning to relax can be one of the best methods to promote better sleep. There are many methods to achieve relaxation. Some of them were described here before, such as here, here and here.

  • Look for medical causes
    Sometimes, even though we try many methods, we just can’t fix sleep. Some of these cases are caused by a medical problem. There are many medical conditions that can harm sleep, like asthma, allergies, lung problems, heart problems, digestive problems and more. It can also be a manifestation of depression or anxiety. If nothing else works, it might be a good idea to ask a doctor for advice.

Written on 3/30/2009 by Roy Schwartz. Roy is a new MD, and tries to help people understand diseases and improve their health at A Disease A Day. Photo Credit: Google

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