Sleep Your Way to Better Health

Katie Delaney, RD, and Julie Walker, Take Control Staff

Diet and exercise are often the first two things people look at when trying to improve their health. But sleep quality can be an overlooked issue that can sabotage your efforts in those areas. Science has linked long term sleep deprivation to weight gain, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, weaker immunity, risk of heart disease and more.

When you enroll in Take Control, early in the program your coach will likely ask you about your sleep quality. Identifying and resolving sleep issues is key to ensuring success as you work toward your health goals. If you find yourself nodding off during the day or having insomnia at night, it’s time to take steps to improve your sleep quality.

Steps to Improve Sleep Quality

  1. Sleep an appropriate amount of time – not too much or too little. The recommended amount is based on age. 18-64 years old: 7 to 9 hours; 65 years and older: 7-8 hours. Genetics and sleep quality can affect this number for people, so try various amounts in the range to see what feels right for you.
  2. Conclude exercise at least three hours prior to bedtime. The onset of sleep is related to cooler body temperature. After you exercise, it may take 6 hours for body temperature to cool down.
  3. Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes. Napping doesn’t actually make up for inadequate sleep. However, 20-30 minutes may improve mood, alertness, and performance.
  4. Get adequate exposure to natural light. Exposure to light and dark helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  5. Avoid stimulants close to bedtime. Stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can keep you from falling asleep, or can interrupt your sleep during the night.
  6. Avoid eating close to bedtime, particularly foods that can disrupt sleep. Foods that can trigger indigestion include heavy, rich, or high fat foods, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated beverages.
  7. Establish a relaxing regular bedtime routine. When you follow a routine, your body learns to start shutting down. Examples include taking a warm shower or bath, reading a book, or doing light stretching or yoga.
  8. Create a pleasant sleep environment. Pillows and mattress should be comfy. Bedroom temperature should be around 60-67 degrees. Limit light exposure from lamps, cell phones, TV screens, etc. Try blackout curtains, ear plugs, white noise machines, humidifiers, or fans. Adding lavender lotion or essential oil to your body or bedroom has shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure.
  9. Take steps to reduce anxiety and “busy brain” syndrome. Use your EAP system at work or talk to a counselor to identify stressors and talk through solutions. If you don’t have access to a counselor, simply making a list of everything on your mind can help quiet the mind. Try meditation.
  10. Consider checking with your insurance provider to see if a sleep study is covered. Sleep studies can identify problems such as sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, sleepwalking, and REM sleep issues. If any of those issues are identified, you can work with your doctor to address them.

Your Take Control health coach can help you review these suggestions, and create a customized sleep improvement plan that fits with your lifestyle. Often simple steps can assist you on your way to achieving your health goals. We find that small steps over a longer period of time create long-term success.