April 12, 2019 Practice Points

A Better Night’s Sleep: Five Actions to Improve Your Sleep Quality

Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty handling stress, decreased immunity from illness, and an increased risk for chronic disease.

By Kathryn Honecker

It is said that rest is the best medicine. Yet for attorneys, lack of sleep can be a serious problem. While sleepless nights happen to us all, if you’re routinely getting fewer than six hours of quality sleep a night, you may be one of millions of Americans suffering from “presenteeism”—being present at work, but not productive. You also may have difficulty handling stress, decreased immunity from illness, and an increased risk for chronic disease.

Luckily, you can take steps to improve your sleep quality and in turn your overall life quality. Below are five tips that should help you sleep better.

  1. Improve your diet. Making a few small changes in your diet can improve sleep. Try increasing your consumption of magnesium-rich foods, such as leafy green vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains, as magnesium interacts with an important neurotransmitter that favors sleep. Vitamin B6 can also encourage sleep, so try eating a banana or sunflower seeds before bed. And, if you eat fish, select salmon, tuna or halibut for dinner can give you a helpful B6 dose. Research has also linked diets lacking in carbohydrates or calcium with insomnia, so, incorporate some plain Cheerios or a small bowl of oatmeal into your diet. Or if you eat dairy, try a bowl of Greek yogurt to increase your chances of a good night’s sleep. Finally, in addition to maintaining a normal weight, eliminating late-night and after-dinner snacks and avoiding high-sodium foods at dinner also may help you sleep better at night.
  2. Watch your drinks. It’s not just what you eat that affects sleep. Drinking adequate fluids, such as water, especially in the late afternoon, can help you sleep. Chamomile and non-caffeinated green tea can also promote sleep.

    But watch out for caffeine and alcohol. While limiting your consumption of caffeinated beverages is good, if you have trouble sleeping, caffeine in the evening should be off the table. The same holds true for alcohol. Avoid consuming alcohol within three hours of bedtime, because alcohol blocks restorative REM sleep.
  3. Avoid blue light at night. The sky’s blue light at 9:00 a.m. tells our bodies that it’s daytime by reducing melatonin levels, making us alert and awake. As the sun sets, the sky’s blue is replaced with reds and oranges, and eventually darkness, which signals our bodies to increase melatonin levels to induce sleep. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t distinguish between daylight’s blue light and the blue light that emanates from LED lightbulbs, televisions, tablets, and smart phones. “At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers.” When exposed to artificial blue light, your body believes it is daytime, suppressing melatonin levels and causing insomnia.

    To sleep better, increase your daytime exposure to sunlight by getting outdoors and taking a walk. Avoid blue light at night by turning off any unnecessary lights and electronics an hour or two before bedtime, and try to keep gadgets out of your bedroom altogether. You can also switch out LED light bulbs for blue-free bulbs, wear blue-light-blocking eyewear when looking at electronic screens, and even install blue-blocking apps or screen protectors on your devices.
  4. Avoid known stress triggers. Stop working or doing stimulating activities at least 90 minutes before bedtime. Instead of exercising before bed, plan your exercise for during the day or early evening. Also, avoiding your work email before bed can help you evade nighttime worrying, planning, and ruminating, when you’d rather be sleeping. Wouldn’t you rather deal with any problems after you’ve had a good night’s sleep?
  5. Establish a bedtime routine. Finally, you should create a bedtime routine to signal that it’s time to sleep. Increase warmth by taking a warm bath or shower, drinking a warm non-caffeinated beverage, and using socks, blankets, or a heating pad for cold feet. Minimize distracting sounds with white noise or ear plugs, and reduce light with room-darkening shades or an eye mask. Keep your alarm clock’s display out of sight. Listen to music or meditate to help you relax and clear your mind. If you can’t silence your thoughts, try a meditation app that also has “sleep stories,” which are designed to lull you to sleep, or listen to an encore performance of an audio book you already know.

Hopefully, by incorporating these five tips into your daily lifestyle, you’ll be sleeping well in no time.

Kathryn Honecker is the chair of the Class Action Department at Rose Law Group pc in Scottsdale, Arizona, and cochairs the Section of Litigation’s Consumer Litigation Committee.

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).