Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep

sleepingHaving trouble sleeping is very common. An average American is reported to get an average of 6 ½ to 7 hours of sleep a day. That is a far cry from 100 years ago, when the average American was getting 9 hours of sleep. And an even farther cry from 5000 years ago. (Yes 5000).

Anthropologies say that 5000 years ago, the average sleep was 11-12 hours at night. Which basically means our ancestors were asleep for the entire half of one whole day? Perhaps it was because they did not have portable light and there were saber tooth tigers outside.

Then, we discovered candles. Which means we can extend whatever activities we had that time for a few hours or so? And then the light bulb was invented, the radio and the greatest of all inventions, the television. This does not include work and other social activities such as "hanging out", "partying", "gimmicks". No wonder, we’re down to 6 ½ to 7 hours of sleep per night. And 6 ½ to 7 hours of sleep a night is not sufficient to allow proper tissue repair.

Apart from drastically changing your lifestyle and except of course if you have sleeping disorders which requires treatment, there are other ways to get a good night’s sleep. And it has nothing to do with going back to prehistoric times.

Sleep essentials

1. A nice, comfortable mattress

If your mattress is fairly old and you have been feeling pain, usually in the back area, then it is high time you go shopping for a new one. You need not go by your 10 year warranty. It does not cover comfort and support anyway.

Professor Bert Jacobson, of the health and human performance at Okla­homa State University says that "a worn mattress is like an old running shoe It loses its support and its comfort." Also, an old and worn mattress fails at the neutrality test. The neutrality test is when your mattress allows your spine to be neutral. "If your mattress allows your spine to curve up or down, that’s not healthy for blood circulation or for resting your muscles" says chiropractor Scott Bautch, an ergonomics expert and past president of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health.

Trouble sleeping

7 out of 10 American’s have trouble sleeping according to the National Sleep Foundation survey. Throw in such factors as pain, pregnancy, menopause, insomnia and several others, and sleep would seem a like a far away dream. More serious health problems caused by not getting enough sleep includes trouble thinking clearly and increased risks of obesity, diabetes, viral illnesses, heart disease, and depression.

Of course, a mattress is only ever a mattress, so do not expect it to solve all your sleeping problems. "The small contribution mattresses make is a surface that doesn’t cause pain and stress to muscles, that allows you to lie comfortably" says Dr. Clete Kushida director of the Stanford University Center for Human Sleep Research.

Mattress-Hunting

However, there are about a thousand types of mattresses out there (water, down, foam, coil, air, combinations of any of the aforementioned, etc.) so be prepared for several mattress testings and several questions from sales people. Think of what you might like in a mattress so you will have some idea when you go mattress-hunting. You can also try to ask your physician or other sleep experts what is the best kind or matress for you. Dr. Scott D. Boden, director of the Emory Orthopedics and Spine Center in Atlanta, Georgia has this to say. "It’s good to know what kind of mattresses are out there, but the only thing that really matters is comfort. And no one mattress is for everyone."

2. The perfect pillow

Another good-night’s-sleep essential is your pillow. Not just any other pillow, but the perfect pillow. There’s nothing magical exactly about the perfect pillow. Only that it should support your neck in its most natural position, regardless of whether you’re a side, back, or tummy sleeper,. This is according to Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and a spinal-surgery specialist at New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases.

Here are some useful hints from Dr. Goldstein to finding the perfect pillow:

  • Side sleepers – "They will rest easier with a medium-firm pillow that cuddles and supports the neck."
  • Tummy sleepers – "A soft pillow with a gentle slope is best for stomach sleepers."
  • Back sleepers – "They’ll be more comfortable with a medium-firm pillow."

3. Baby your spine

Apart from your bed necessities – mattress and pillows – the key to a restful night’s sleep with your spine in neutral. This means that your spine should be in a position that supports the way your spine is shaped – forward curves at the neck and lower back and a backward sway in the middle. This is the reason for all the trouble of finding the right mattress and pillow that supports your spine correctly and keeps it aligned and stress-free.

Here are some useful ways to find your spine’s ‘neutral’:

  • Tummy sleepers – If you cannot sleep otherwise except for this back-unfriendly position, you can put a flat pillow under your stomach to keep your spine’s natural curves.
  • Side sleepers – You can place a pillow between your knees to keep the pressure off the hips.
  • Back sleepers – For back sleepers with lower back pains, you can try putting a small flat pillow under your knees to help your back curve naturally.