As we roll into December 2020, the topic of sleep will become a renewed focus for me and, I hope, for my readers as well.
As many already know, I will be retiring from my current work as a primary care internal medicine and geriatric physician. I will leave behind the daily grind, including getting up earlier than my body or I desire and rushing off to work. And I’ll be getting off the “hamster wheel,” as my administrator refers to it of the rigors of patient care sandwiched between paperwork, phone calls, meetings, hospital care, and long lists of patient diagnoses.
Plans for the Future
When my patients ask me what I will be doing in the first months of my retirement, I tell them quite seriously I will be learning to sleep for a longer duration of time. After reading and writing about the importance of sleep for years, I am aware that some days I fall short.
My goal is to get eight hours of sleep each night. As I begin retirement, I plan on reaching this goal with frequency. Many mornings, I do find that I wake up because of stiffness in my back, and I will have to address that in order to achieve eight hours of quality sleep.
Better Sleep Habits and Techniques to Get There
I have incorporated several new or improved techniques this year as I work toward my goal. I keep my sleep space as dark as possible and avoid looking at my watch or clock if I wake up. If I start calculating the minutes or hours I have left before my alarm rings, I could build an undesirable habit. Once our brains are engaged by thinking about this, it is very hard to turn them off and fall back to sleep.
Here are some additional techniques I plan on (re)incorporating to enhance my sleep:
- If I awaken—I will not look at my watch. I will look around my darkened bedroom like a groundhog, realize it is still dark outside, and put myself (will myself) back to sleep.
- If I awaken (after December 31st), I will no longer have responsibilities for the care of my patients; therefore, I will have a lot less to think about. However, if there is something on my mind, and I cannot shake it out after 20 minutes, I will get out of bed and go to our family room and read. (I will still avoid any electronic devices that have blue light. Blue light awakens our brains and keeps us awake longer.) Soon, I’ll become sleepy again and return to my bed.
- I will hydrate myself adequately during the day and avoid an abundance of fluids after dinner to prevent the urge to get up to void at night.
- I will engage in gentle stretching at night to ward off body aches and back discomfort which occasionally awakens me in the middle of my slumber.
- I will consider taking a single Acetaminophen/Tylenol at bedtime to reduce the potential of pain awakening me before my desired awakening time.
- As a retiree, I will have little need for an alarm clock, so I will turn this off—at least until I decide to take on new responsibilities.
Tracking Sleep Habits
Additionally, I received an Apple Watch from my family for my birthday. I use it to monitor my sleep and it has a mindfulness tool that I use to aid my meditation process. Prior to receiving my Apple Watch, I tracked my sleep using my Fitbit tracker. There are many other ways to track this and your other Power of 5 goals. Smart phones offer many different apps to assist in meeting health goals. (I will share a few of these in an upcoming blog.) If you prefer pen and paper, my wife Melissa and I developed a wellness journal for just that purpose! You can purchase the journal and take charge of your Power of 5 step by step here.
If you have any “sleep secrets” please forward them to me so I can share them with my readers, and we will all benefit from better sleep.
Wishing you all a happy healthy holiday season! May 2021 be filled with the hope for a healthy world free of COVID-19.
To a Long and Healthy Life,
David Bernstein, MD