6 Things to Know About Sleep

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Physician Eric Ten Brock, medical director of the Sleep and Wellness Centers of Western New York.
Physician Eric Ten Brock, medical director of the Sleep and Wellness Centers of Western New York.

A good night’s sleep is sometimes referred to as one of the best free medicines a person can get. And too often the general public is suffering from a lack of it.

“People should not underestimate the importance of good sleep,” said physician Eric Ten Brock, professor at the department of medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Good sleep is essential to functioning at your highest levels at every stage in life. There are people who say they only need four or five hours sleep a night to function and they are either lying, in the minority or don’t realize how they are not living up to their full effectiveness.”

Brock offers six tips for attempting to reclaim that needed good sleep.

1. Keep a regular bedtime.

Even though as adults we don’t always like routine, going to bed at the same time each day has significant benefits. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will actually help you sleep better at night.

“Your sleeping cycle has a certain circadian rhythm where you often wake up at the same time during the night,” said Brock. “Your body also has a certain rhythm of when it wants to get up. Going to sleep at random times can completely cause your system to be out of sorts.”

2. Use the bed for sleep

Sometimes sleep seems to be a secondary use for the bed. People read, eat, talk and play around on the phone or watch television. However, using it for its primary purpose can make an incredible difference in how you sleep.

“Similar to going to bed at the same time, your body and mind responds to the rhythm of using the bed for sleep,” said Brock, who is also the medical director of the Sleep and Wellness Centers of Western New York. “Instead of checking your email or browsing through the internet, when you use your bed for sleep it helps you focus on getting good sleep.”

3. Go to bed when you are tired

Seems simple enough. Yet it is one of public’s biggest mistakes and reasons why they struggle sleeping. Sometimes people go to bed early and figure sleep will just hit them or they do the opposite and push through and stay awake even when their bodies want to go to sleep. Both are mistakes.

“People feel like just lying in bed will make them tired and that is not often the case. Or they say that even though they are tired they don’t feel like going to bed and they stay up,” said Brock. “You don’t necessarily need the one or two hour countdown in bed before going to bed and you don’t want to accidentally get that second wind because you stayed up past the time you were tired.”

4. Be careful with naps

Even though they can be pleasant, taking a nap could be very disruptive to your sleeping cycle. If you’re sleep deprived or just looking for a way to relax, you might be thinking about taking a nap. Napping at the wrong time of day or for too long can backfire, though.

“If you are someone who gets good sleep regularly then taking a nap is fine,” added Brock. “But if you are someone who is incredibly sleep deprived then you should avoid it. Naps can decrease your sleeping drive and affect you at night when you should be tired.”

If you must take a nap, the recommendation is on the shorter side like 20 minutes.

5. Check your medication

Many medications can have adverse effects on sleeping. Look no further than water pills. It helps your body get rid of extra water by increasing the amount of urine you make.

“Taking a water pill will make you go to the bathroom throughout the night which will disrupt your sleeping habits,” said Brock. “You need to know what side effects your medication has and talk to your physicians about it especially if you are someone who does have a problem sleeping.”

6. Caffeine and sleeping pills can be detrimental

While everyone is different, drinking caffeine is typically not a wise decision if you want good sleep. The most obvious effect of the stimulant is that it can make it hard for you to fall asleep. One study also found that caffeine can delay the timing of your body clock, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

“Because caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, it causes a molecular effect that can temporarily delay your wave of sleepiness and make you more alert,” said Brock.

In addition, he also urges people to stay away from sleeping pills.

“Those are either a no fix or short fix when it comes to really getting to the core of your problem,” he said. “Pills like melatonin only shifts or advances your sleep and wake cycle. It doesn’t really make you tired.”