A 2016 Consumer Reports survey found that 68 percent, or 124 million, of American adults struggle with getting adequate or quality sleep at least once per week. Of these, 27 percent complained of insomnia, an inability to fall or stay asleep. Even worse, Americans seem to pride themselves on being overworked, exhausted, and mentally burned out. Put these all together, and we have a recipe for total disaster. So, how can we break the mold, get better sleep, and be healthier? Good question. We must begin by determining whether or not we have a problem with sleep.
In 2021, there is an epidemic of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which the individual affected repeatedly stops breathing. In fact, one in 15 adults is expected to have OSA. In addition to proper medical treatment, several simple lifestyle changes can help those affected with OSA get better sleep, such as unwinding, relaxing, avoiding blue light exposure, and adjusting their sleeping position.
1. Wind Down
The first tip to improve your sleep is to ensure you have the proper time to wind down in the evening. This means planning, avoiding food and drink in the hour(s) leading up to bedtime, and engaging in light exercise, reading, or gentle brain games. Some examples include yoga, stretching, completing a crossword puzzle, or sudoku. These are excellent and engaging ways to relax the mind, body, and spirit and prepare for slumber.
Dr. Susan J. Noonan says, “Winding down from our day is important to help us relax and initiate sleep. It’s a process where we intentionally put aside the events and worries from the day so they don’t get in the way of our having a restful night, something that’s essential to optimal brain restoration and functioning, memory, and learning.”
The second tip to improve your sleep is to relax. Many individuals, especially those with a mental condition such as anxiety, find it challenging to settle down and clear their headspace. Racing thoughts and to-do lists can make it difficult to sleep soundly. Therefore, it is essential to find a technique that calms you. This might be an evening walk, a bath with relaxing oils or salts, practicing meditation, or listening to white noise like nature or fan sounds. Each of these things works for different individuals, so don’t be afraid to try them all and see what one or combination works for you.
The Sleep Foundation says,
While stress is the body’s natural response to protecting itself, chronic stress or anxiety can have many long-term effects, including poor sleep or even sleepless nights.
Stress invokes the “fight or flight” feeling. This elevates the heart rate, quickens breathing, and increases stress hormones in the body. Anxiety is stress that continues after the stressor is gone, and it produces similar physiological effects.
During times of unwanted stress and anxiety, relaxation techniques can produce the body’s natural relaxation response. This includes a slower heart rate and breathing pattern, a lower blood pressure, and an overall feeling of calm.
3. Avoid Electronics
The third tip to improve your sleep is to avoid electronics. Your phone, laptop, television, and tablet emit blue light, interfering with our body’s natural circadian rhythm. While blue light glasses are an option, it is best to avoid all electronics in the hour leading up to bed. Instead, choose an alternative activity that relaxes your mind and body. In addition to the above, work on a puzzle, talk with a friend or partner, journal, or draw. These activities will help you clear your mind and prepare to get the best sleep possible.
The Sleep Foundation says that electronics “emit blue light, which has been shown to reduce or delay the natural production of melatonin in the evening and decrease feelings of sleepiness. Blue light can also reduce the amount of time you spend in slow-wave and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, two stages of the sleep cycle that are vital for cognitive functioning.”
4. Adjust Your Position
The final tip to get better sleep with OSA is to adjust your sleeping position. Many individuals choose to sleep on their sides or stomachs, while others sleep on their backs. So, what is the best position for individuals with OSA? The answer is your back, but only with the head elevated. Sleeping with your head flat increases your risk of obstruction as the tongue relaxes and falls back into your airway. By elevating your head, you use gravity to your advantage, keeping the airway clear and open for maximum oxygenation and the best sleep possible.
A study in the National Library of Medicine illustrates that “sleeping in a semi-recumbent position with the upper body at an incline of 30 to 45 degrees helps decrease sleep apnea severity. Individuals who struggle with snoring or other breathing issues could find relief in this inclined position.”
Sleeping on your side is another excellent option as, again, your tongue is less likely to cause an issue as it falls forward in the palette instead of back into the throat.
According to The Better Sleep Council, “While there are many variations of sleeping on your side, all of which are beneficial in helping to alleviate insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation, the most comfortable position involves bending the knees slightly upward toward the chest.” For individuals with back pain, consider placing a pillow between your legs to reduce the amount of pressure on your lower back and hips.
OSA can make getting a good night of rest difficult. Make things easier on yourself by unwinding, relaxing, avoiding blue light exposure, and adjusting your sleeping position. And don’t hesitate to speak with your trusted healthcare provider, as they will be able to provide you with the best treatment plan for your specific wants and needs.