Man sleeps soundly with limbs sliding off the bed to the sound of music

Tactics to Improve Sleep

How’s your sleep? Are you getting enough? According to studies, the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep.1 

More than 75 percent of people with Parkinson’s report issues sleeping. Count me among them. What can we do? Let’s talk about sleep and ways to try improving sleep right away.1,2

What is it?

Sleep is an altered state of consciousness and reduced physical activity. We react less to our environment. There are definite patterns of sleep and wakefulness. When asleep the brain can be more active than when awake. Sleep science defines human sleep using measurable brain activity and physiological changes that occur while asleep.1

The body’s temperature, blood pressure, blood glucose, oxygen, and carbon dioxide which are relatively stable while we are awake, are reduced during sleep. It affects almost every aspect of our physical and mental health.1,3

Important for overall health

Along with diet and exercise, sleep is often considered one of the pillars of health. It forms a base for diet and exercise. Studies show the amount of sleep is related to overall health and the immune system.3

Diminished or disrupted sleep is associated with many diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.  Professor Matthew Walker, with the University of Southern California, sums it up, “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.”3,4

Treatment considerations

A few things to approach cautiously: Talk with your doctor if you have or think you have a sleep disorder. The lack of sleep seriously impacts your health, and it may be treatable.

Also, any medications and supplements you’re considering ought to be discussed with your doctor. Many Parkinson’s medications have adverse interactions with sleep medications and supplements.

Please be careful using caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine, a stimulant, decreases the amount of deep restorative sleep. Alcohol, a drug in the sedative class, changes the brain's electrical patterns causing fragmented sleep with multiple awakenings. Avoid going to bed under the influence of alcohol.

Tips to improve sleep

Here are positive tactics I’ve tried to improve the odds of getting better sleep:5

Our brains work better with regular patterns of sleep going to and waking up at the same time each day. Sleep comes easier when we try to work with, instead of against, our body’s rhythm.

Light and dark are our friends. When waking up and throughout the first part of your awake time, expose yourself to daylight. Start dimming the lights a few hours before bedtime. This helps your eyes signal your brain that it’s time to start producing melatonin that will help you sleep.

Try sleeping in a darkened environment. Avoid bright screens such as televisions, computers, tablets, or smartphones which emanate "blue" light like daylight which might confuse your brain.

Create a bedtime routine

Develop a bedtime ritual to help you wind down. One example is to write down your worries and anxieties in a "worry" journal. Maybe you would rather focus on the positive in a "gratitude" journal.

Whether it’s reading, writing, listening to music, meditating, or taking a shower or bath, you want to let your body and brain know that it’s nearing time for sleep.

Create a relaxing space

Limit your sleep space to intimacy and sleep. It’s okay to read but don’t watch television or work while in bed. You don’t want to associate your sleep space with something that’s not relaxing.

Consider your bed and bedding. Is it comfortable for you? Is your mattress too firm or soft?  Mine was too soft and I had trouble turning over. Although costly, we bought a new and firmer mattress. Mattresses today offer an incredible array of features so it might be time for a new bed.

Get in bed when you're sleepy

Finally, lying in bed for more than 15 to 20 minutes of sleeplessness is like sitting at a table waiting to get hungry. It’s best to get up and do something.

Try reading, meditating, or listening to relaxing music. Don’t eat because the energy intake confuses the brain. Go back to bed when you feel sleepy.

I hope these tactics are helpful. Wishing you pleasant dreams.

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