Say No to Pills: Natural Ways to Improve Sleep Quality

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Good sleep is like sex or money: You don’t really miss it until it’s absent from your life. So when my friends join in a chorus of how poorly they’re sleeping these days or how little sleep on which they’re forced to make it through their days, it’s difficult to reach any conclusion except that sleep deficits and disorders are an epidemic. In the U.S., statistics support this assumption that my small sampling of friends is representative of the population as a whole. Americans presented 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills to pharmacists in 2011, an increase of 130 percent in five years, according to a study by the journal BMJ.

Down Came the Rain

Unfortunately, prescription sleeping pills come with some questions about their true efficacy, some odd-to-outright dangerous side effects and addictive qualities that make stopping their use difficult. Research studies correlate their use with higher death rates, higher cancer rates and other scary outcomes. Correlation does not imply causation. However, it should give one pause before automatically reaching to a prescription sleeping pill, especially with all the non-pharmaceutical options available.

Out Came the Sun

Continuing research into sleep disorders, a new appreciation of Ayurvedic remedies and ancient Chinese medicine and just plain common sense leave anyone with sleep difficulties with a number of interventions to try before asking their family doctor for a prescription sleeping pill. There are even more scary side effects demonstrated in individuals with chronic sleep deprivation than there are with sleeping pill users, so incorporating some or all of these non-medicinal changes into your life should be a priority.

What Type of Mattress Do You Use & How Old is It?

Michael Decker, PhD, RN, a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as well as an associate professor at Georgia State University, states the obvious unequivocally, “A mattress can impact a person’s sleep.” Ruling out an inappropriate, too old or broken mattress should be one of your first evaluations. Consider a memory foam or an air mattress if your current mattress is 5-7 years old. A survey by Consumer Reports of almost 16,000 individuals found that those who slept on these alternatives rated the quality of their rest as superior to those who retired each night to traditional mattress. Memory foam mattresses are available from a number of manufacturers — ranging from Walmart’s generic offering to Macy’s memory foam — and have varying degrees of firmness and depth.

According to the clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center, our self-evaluation of the quality of our sleep and our preference for the type of mattress we prefer is subjective. Donna Arand, PhD cites instances in which patients’ assessments of the depth, length and quality of their sleep times was totally at odds with the EEG readings used to measure their rest at that time, yet reports that a significant number of her patients speak of their memory foam mattress sleep in very positive terms.

What Time Do You Go to Bed & How Do You Prepare?

You should prepare for each night’s sleep earlier in the day when you first arise by making up your bed, reports the National Sleep Foundation. Mom was right. A made-up bed in a tidy, well-kept bedroom is conducive to better sleep that any rest experienced in rumpled sheets.

Establish a bedtime routine much like we insist small children perform. A small snack of either protein or a banana will help provide the building blocks for the neurotransmitters that the brain relies upon to fall asleep. Finally, gradually dim the lighting as night falls and “unplug” from electronics such as the TV or tablets well before you plan to retire.

What’s Your Bedroom Like?

Having already established that the room should be neat and tidy, sleep experts also strongly recommend that the room be “pitch black” to the point of covering digital clocks and removing night-lights. The temperature of the bedroom should range between 60º-68º for the best sleep. Memory foam mattresses are said to retain heat more than traditional mattresses, so lighter bedcovers or a ceiling fan may be useful.

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