Healthy, Fit & Fabulous: 10 Steps To a Better Night’s Sleep

By: Linda Winkler Garvin, R.N., M.S.N. ~

A good night’s sleep is an important component in maintaining health as we age. In order to be able to avoid the adverse effects of insomnia, it is a good idea to be able to identify the types of stimulation that can interfere with sleep, so you can have an opportunity to modify your behavior and perhaps reduce your chances of experiencing insomnia.

1. Reduce The Level of Stimulation Before Bedtime

Decreasing the noise level in your bedroom one to two hours prior to bedtime. Whether you are watching television or listening to music, start to lower the volume slightly at least one hour before bedtime. Also, begin to dim the lights around an hour before retiring.

2. Establish a Regular Bedtime Routine and Adjust Bedroom Temperature

It is also a good idea to establish a regular time to go to bed, as well as getting up in the morning. In addition, if a bedroom is too hot or too cold, this may affect one’s ability to get to sleep. It is important to take into consideration that for some peri-menopausal and menopausal women, a good night’s sleep is dependent on different temperatures throughout the night.

3. Avoid Foods and Beverages That Negatively Effect Sleep

The type of foods and beverages you consume both have an enormous impact on your ability to get to sleep.

In order to minimize negative impacts on sleep try the following food and beverage suggestions:

  • Any food that is spicy, hot or has the potential to cause gastrointestinal upset should be avoided at dinner time.
  • Avoid caffeine containing beverages [tea, coffee, diet pepsi, mountain dew or chocolate] at least eight hours prior to bedtime.
  • Contrary to what you might think, alcohol can interfere with sleep. If you want an alcoholic drink, you may want try abstaining from alcohol two hours prior to bedtime.
  • Ingesting protein prior to going to bed requires the body to work hard to metabolize this type of food interfering with the body’s ability to relax and induce sleep.
  • Limit the amount of fluids you drink before retiring. If you have an overactive bladder, you may want to limit fluids 2-3 hours prior to bedtime.
  • A light evening snack that contains Tryptophan may assist in relaxation and aid in falling asleep. Some examples of foods that contain Tryptophan are cheese, eggs, cottage cheese, milk, nuts, brown rice, bananas and turkey.

4. Avoid Medications That Interfere With Sleep

It is a wise idea to check the medications you are taking with your pharmacist to see if any of these prescription or non-prescription medications could be affecting your sleep. Some non-prescription medications that contain caffeine, which can interfere with sleep, include Darvon Compound, Fiorinal, Excedrin, and Midol.

5. Develop an Effective Exercise Program

Although a routine exercise program may reduce or help prevent insomnia, one should not engage in aerobic activity at least three hours before bedtime. Some individuals feel that gentle stretching exercises assist their body to relax if done 1-2 hours prior to bedtime. Progressive relaxation, imagery, meditation and certain relaxing breathing techniques have been reported as helpful for some people if practiced before bedtime.

6. Do Not Concentrate on Mental or Emotional Problems

Your thoughts and images prior to bedtime will also affect your sleep. If possible, try to establish a habit of not focusing or ruminating about problematic or painful emotional issues at least one hour prior to bed time.

7. Learn to Relax

Educate yourself about various relaxation techniques, including, but not limited to progressive relaxation, meditation or imagery 1-2 hours prior to bedtime. Remember to use your bedroom for sleep, relaxation and sex.

8. Take a Bath to Relax Prior to Bedtime

Many people find a bath relaxing prior to bedtime. However, with some women, if the bath is within an hour of bedtime the warm bath water can trigger hot flashes, which can interfere with sleep. So plan your bath time accordingly.

9. Bed and Pillow Comfort

Check your mattress, box spring and pillows to make sure they are not worn out or have “lost their support”. Ask yourself if you have developed any neck, back, or hip pain over the past few months. If so, you may need to purchase a new mattress, box spring and pillows.

10. Keep a Sleep Diary

A sleep diary can be very helpful, revealing valuable cues as to some possible causes of your insomnia that you can share with your health professional.

This is a list of some helpful information to include in your sleep diary:

Include the time of the day for each piece of information documented.

• A complete list of all the medications including vitamins, non-prescription and prescription medications you are currently taking each day.

• List all the foods [including snacks] and beverages [including alcohol] you consume in a 24 hour period.

• List any caffeine or nicotine ingestion.

• Include your bedtime regime [time you went to bed, how long it took to fall asleep, how many times you woke up during the night and behavior that occurred as a result of waking up, total hours of sleep, quality of sleep and any other pertinent data].

• Include your general mood and stress levels, including day and night time hours, as well as when you awaken in the middle of the night.

Linda Winkler Garvin, R.N., M.S.N., of Alameda, California, is Director of Health Management Associates, a health advocate and educator with an advanced degree in Nursing.  She assists individuals in navigating the complexities of their health problems from medical treatment, health insurance issues, management of health issues and chronic pain.  She is the author of several articles including, healthy lifestyles, travel, nutrition, health insurance, guided imagery & chronic health problems.  Learn more at or e-mail at


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