From the humor files, have you heard this before: “My bed is a magical place where I suddenly remember everything I was supposed to do today.” This statement captures the elusiveness of sleep for many of us, and research from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) informs us that about 1/3 of all adults don’t get enough sleep, and that some 70,000,000 Americans probably have some type of chronic sleep disorder.
Why is lack of sleep a problem for us? Because, among other things, it can result in irritability, lower concentration, stress, and can lead to poor choices in eating, which is a gateway to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. It has been said, for some, “In the morning you beg to sleep more, in the afternoon you are dying to sleep, and at night your body refuses to sleep.” Again, if this rings true for you, the next step might be to consider what things you can do to stack the deck in your favor, so that you have a better and more restful night’s sleep. For truckers, this can be particularly difficult to achieve, given the demands of the job.
Following is a list of recommendations for you to get a more restful and healthful sleep. On this list, you will probably find things you already do, along with items that your schedule won’t permit, or that don’t fit into your way of doing things. However, even if you come away with just two or three things you can change, that might be enough to help improve your current quality of sleep. So, here goes!
To get a better night’s sleep, develop a consistent bedtime routine or ritual that might include dimming the lights in your bedroom about fifteen minutes before going to bed. This will give your body and mind the impression that nightfall has arrived, and bedtime is approaching. A warm, relaxing shower, a few minutes of meditation, some soft relaxing music, and/or a cup of chamomile tea might help, as well. You also might try doing some light reading with a positive, thoughtful, affirming, or funny theme. When getting ready to go to sleep, don’t even try laying down until you actually feel sleepy. If you don’t doze off within 20 minutes, get up and read or listen to music until you begin to feel sleepy, then return to bed.
Some things to consider because they disrupt sleep include having your last caffeine beverages for the day no later than 2:00 PM, avoid drinking alcohol three hours before bedtime, and some experts advise against intense exercise within two or three hours before bedtime. However, exercise is generally recommended, for its benefits to improve sleep health and a host of other maladies. There is no clear evidence that when we exercise impacts how we sleep, so this means that when you exercise during the day, you should depend on what personally suits you.
Some think smoking marijuana before bed might be helpful, but the verdict on that one is still out, as to whether it is effective or problematic for good quality sleep. Also, as you know, truckers have stricter rules regarding having these types of substances in their system, so be careful and aware of that. Keep naps to no more than twenty minutes. Napping at around 3:00 PM is generally the most effective time, as that is when most of us are at a low point in our energy level and wakefulness.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) also discourages the use of over the counter (OTC) sleep aids because many contain Benadryl, which is a powerful antihistamine that can help facilitate sleep, but which can continue to have effects the next day by giving you a groggy, hung-over feeling. Melatonin might be helpful in managing jet lag, but it is often taken incorrectly, and there are concerns about contaminants found in various supplements on the market. These supplements, which are not under the jurisdiction of the FDA (Food & Drug Administration), can – and often do – come with bogus claims.
Of course, your bedroom (or sleeper) plays a role in the quality of your sleep, too. Here are some recommendations for a healthy sleep environment. Keep it cool, dark, and quiet – the bedroom should be at 60-67 degrees, with covers available to pull up over you should you feel cold. A dark room facilitates better sleep. Consider installing relatively inexpensive blackout curtains to ensure your bedroom is dark when you sleep. An uncluttered bedroom, without TV or other screens, facilitates better sleep.
Stimulus generalization is a fancy psychological term that means environmental cues elicit a behavior. In simple terms, if you use your bed for sleeping, when you lie down, you will be inclined to sleep. The other side of the coin is that if we watch TV or do our banking and other activities in bed, our body and mind do not as clearly make the connection that BED equals SLEEP. That is why an uncluttered bedroom also aids in setting the mood for sleep. All of us have had the experience of going to bed in a cluttered room, only to hear the little voice in our heads saying, “Oh, I really need to clean that up, and dust, and re-arrange.” This is certainly not the distraction you want as you go to bed.
Another thing that you can do in the day that may increase your chances of having a good night’s sleep is take a daily walk. It is generally good that you are out of the driver’s seat and off the couch, not sitting. This additional daily movement could facilitate better sleep. Also, plan for a similar wake up and go to sleep time every day. Ideally, you should work toward waking up without an alarm clock, that is, your body awakens when it has had enough sleep. It may be more effective to try to wake up at the same time every morning, rather than a regularly scheduled bedtime. It is good to get 15 minutes of sunlight every morning to reset your circadian rhythm. Sometimes, staying up a long time can kick-start a good, long, restful sleep.
In closing, I believe truckers have a challenge with getting good quality sleep, due to the nature of their work. It is clear that many have to double down to get the restful sleep they need to do the important work they do. In a subsequent column, I will delve further into this topic with a walk-through of some various sleep disorders. In the meantime, if you are struggling with getting good quality sleep, consider speaking with your health care provider, since this concern in many cases can be treated. Here’s wishing you great sleep and sweet dreams in 2024 and beyond!