Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


12 Quick Tips for Better Zzzs

Sweet Dreams

Personally, I am a big fan of sleep. I haven't been getting as much of it, lately, as I'd like (my 18-month-old only recently started sleeping through the night)...and, frankly, it sucks.

Sleep deprivation not only feels awful, it carries major health consequences. A multitude of studies show the health dangers of insufficient or poor quality sleep. A sampling of said consequences: heart disease, hypertension, depression, and diabetes.

Also, sleep deprivation: not your best look. A study recently showed that people who had a crappy night's sleep the night before are rated less attractive, compared to when they had a solid night's rest. But things get worse: it can make you fat. Lack of sleep increases ghrelin, your hunger hormone, triggering those somebody-find-me-a-cheesecake type feelings.

But...what if you have trouble sleeping? And not because a baby is keeping you up. What if you just flat can't get to sleep? Well, you’re not alone. One third of Canadians report periodic sleeplessness, and 1 in 10 of us suffer chronic insomnia. Patients come to me with this issue all. The. Time.

Whether it’s difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakening, or all-around crummy sleep...the good news is this: there are lots of things you can do.

Here’s your toolbox for better sleep:

  1. Establish rhythmsFor sound snoozing, you need a regular sleep schedule.  Turn in at the same time each evening, and arise the same time each morning. Yes, even on Saturday.
  2. Turn off the lights. Sounds obvious, but I’m not just talking about the lamp on your nightstand. Recent studies have shown that even tiny amounts of light in your bedroom, while you’re sleeping, can have adverse effects. So get blackout curtains and remove any gadgets (computers, DVD players, phones...) that blink or emit little lights. Cover everything else up. Or, wear an eye mask (a la Carrie Bradshaw).
  3. Limit caffeine. If (like me) you simply can’t imagine your day without your venti nonfat latte (and you want the health benefits of coffee anyway! Yes...I said health benefits), make it a morning treat only. No caffeine after noon.
  4. Wear socks.  Recent research has unearthed some interesting findings on sleep and body temperature.  Improving blood flow to the extremities keeps your feet warm and your core relatively cool. This pattern appears to benefit sleep. 
  5. No nightcaps.  Curb alcohol in the hours before bedtime.  Although it may help you drop off, you’ll pay the price with increased wakefulness later in your sleep cycle.  Unless you have plans for 3 a.m. activity, best skip that pre-bed glass of wine.
  6. Nourish sleep. The right bedtime snack can help you achieve a full night of restorative sleep. (hint: nosh on complex carbs and a little tryptophan).
  7. Create a haven.  Transform your boudoir into a place that cultivates restful nights.  Reserve it for sleep and sex only—no television, no exercise and, especially, no work. It should be a comfortable temperature and well-ventilated.  Invest in a high-quality, supportive bed.  Run a fan at night if you have noisy street sounds (or the opposite: unnerving silence). 
  8. Take magnesium. Magnesium is a marvel of a mineral, and research is beginning to show its benefits for stress, depression, anxiety...and sleep.
  9. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. We do this for our kids, right? (A bath, a story...) Why not make your own little bedtime ritual? Try a bubble bath and herbal tea, then a relaxing activity like knitting or (my personal fave) reading a great book.
  10. Exercise.  Regular exercise promotes sound sleep.  But don’t exercise just before bed—you’ll be all pumped up.  In particular, try yoga.  With its blend of relaxation, focus and stretching, yoga charms the sandman.
  11. Harmonize with daylight.  Work with your body’s response to light and dark cycles.  Exposure to sunlight—as little as thirty minutes, early in the day—encourages sleep onset when bedtime arrives. 
  12. Meditate. Studies have shown that regular meditation nourishes sleep.  Experiment with various techniques: mindfulness, transcendent, or counting meditation…sheep, perhaps? 


Now...what if your insomnia is caused by a baby waking you up? Is sleep an unattainable dream for you? Not necessarily. Here are my thoughts on that....