Do you recall waking up in the morning after a totally wonderful night's sleep completely refreshed, almost restored anew? You had such a good rest you thought about it fondly throughout the following day, perhaps perplexed as to why it can't happen more often?
Two weeks ago Saturday that happened to me — well, to us. The strangest part was that my husband and I were traveling and not even sleeping in our own comfy bed. We were in a strange bedroom in an unfamiliar environment but we both woke up feeling incredibly rested. Prone to analysis of the little things in life, I concluded it was the fact the bedroom was very dark. There was only one window with a heavy curtain pulled tight — not a crack of light escaped into that room during the night and the early morning. Impressed at the impact, we opted to find ways to make our bedroom at home darker.
But then, before we'd accomplished that, it happened again — at least to me. I awakened totally rested and rejuvenated and could not attribute it to a darkened bedroom. As I looked back at what might explain it, the only truly different factor for me was more exercise on the preceding day. It was not a before-bed walk but, instead, a long, early morning hike.
Too many of us are not getting enough sleep. That's the focus of the April issue of Consumer Reports on Health. A Centers for Disease Control study found that a third of adults are sleep deprived. When we haven't slept well, we have memory difficulties and problems concentrating. And we get cranky — at least I do. As we age, that unrested feeling manifests itself in unsteadiness and dizziness which can lead to falls and fractures. See where all this might lead?
Apparently lots of aging adults opt for prescription sleep aids as their solution. Over a 15-year period there's been a five-fold increase in people who want pills to put them to sleep. These are the pills that can lead to "side effects, dependency and even worse sleep problems when taken too often or in excessive doses," according to Consumer Reports on Health. What really caught my attention was the effectiveness of non-drug approaches. A darkened bedroom and daily exercise were on the list — as were refraining from a large, late-evening meal, having no alcohol within four hours of going to bed and a regular sleep schedule (going to bed and getting up at the same time each day).
"Treating the cause" was highlighted. For example, if osteoarthritis produces night pain that keeps you awake, the recommendations included weight loss and a little "gentle yoga" immediately before bed. If getting up frequently in the night to go to the bathroom disrupts sleep — it's the number one cause of insomnia in older adults — the suggestions involve having a physician rule out an undiagnosed disease and a re-assessment of the time of the day you take medications (especially diuretics). There was even an indication too-close-to-bedtime drinks containing artificial sweeteners might be the culprit.
My favorite sleep-inducer is deep breathing. I think to myself, "Smell the rose, blow out the candle," as I breathe in and out slowly. I'm often asleep before the third repetition. For me, that simple technique, combined with early-day aerobic exercise and new shades in the bedroom, is a kind of insurance to me. It means being rested and ready for anything that comes my way — and that's a really nice thought to wake up to.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.