Sleep may well be the most important single factor in determining how healthy you are. The quality of your sleep has a profound impact on the quality of your life. Sleep is when your body and brain rejuvenate and repair themselves from the stress of living. Sleep marks the end of one day and the start of another. You must sleep well to be well.

During an average week, you spend about as much time sleeping as you do working, so it's important to make the most of those sleeping hours. Five factors that can impact your sleep are: stress, diet, exercise, posture and bedding. We will discuss each of those factors individually.

Stress

The stress of each day can make it difficult to relax and unwind to achieve restful sleep. It is important that you learn to put your thoughts away at the end of the day. Many people find that light reading, playing or listening to relaxing music, or writing in a journal help them to let go of the tension of the day. Some find that a warm shower or bath before bed helps them unwind, while others may need to try specific relaxation techniques, such as meditation or pleasant imagery. If you don't feel yourself drifting off to sleep after about 20 minutes, don't just continue to lie in bed. Get up, go to another room and try one of the methods noted above.

Diet

It is best to eat small meals every 3-4 hours throughout the day in order to consume adequate protein and maintain stable blood sugar levels. Try not to eat within two hours of bedtime. Some specific substances to avoid late at night are:

·Caffeine - found in coffee, black and green tea, soda, chocolate and many common pain relievers

·Nicotine - stimulates the central nervous system

·Alcohol - may make you drowsy, but may also keep you from reaching deep sleep and cause you to wake often during the night

·Spicy or fatty foods - can keep your digestive system overactive

Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to ensure a good night's sleep. By delivering oxygen to all parts of the body, regulating hormone levels, and stretching the muscles and joints, exercise helps prepare the body for deep, restful sleep. Just be sure not to exercise too intensely within three hours of bedtime.

Posture

One of the most frequent questions we get asked as chiropractic physicians is, "What position should I sleep in?" The best positions are either on the side or on the back. Side sleepers want to make sure their pillow fills the space between their neck and the bed so that the neck is level with the bed. Hips and knees should be slightly bent. It is also helpful to place a thin pillow between the knees so the low back is not twisted or rotated. Back sleepers should use enough pillow to support the natural curve of the neck, but not so much that the head is pushed into a bent forward position. A small pillow under the knees will also reduce lower back strain in this position.

The problem with sleeping on your stomach is that you must turn your head to the side to breathe. When you sleep, your muscles do not support your spine as much as when you are awake, so an awkward sleep posture can result in poor balance and alignment of the spine. In our practice, we see many patients who experience neck pain as a result of habitually sleeping on their stomach. If you are waking up stiff and sore in the morning, it may be caused by either poor sleep posture or poor bedding.

Bedding

Your sleep environment is very important. The room you sleep in should be quiet, dark and slightly cool. Be sure that drafts from open windows or fans do not blow directly on you.

Your mattress should be large enough for you to lie fully outstretched and turn comfortably. It should be firm enough to support the weight of your body without sagging, but pliable enough to accommodate the contours of your spine, hips, shoulders, neck and head. When purchasing a new mattress and bedding, lie down for at least five minutes on your back and each side (with your partner if you share a bed). Do not be intimidated by store surroundings. Your comfort is what's important. Most mattresses need to be replaced every 8-10 years.

It has been our experience that local manufacturers can provide you with excellent bedding and service at a fraction of the cost of many of the large bedding chains. For more information, contact our office at 397-2211.

Note: Much of the information in this article was adapted from the brochure "Sleeping Fit! A better way to sleep and feel rested" by Dr. Scott Donkin.

Drs. Michael Cocco and Timothy Sweigard practice at Amity Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Center, LLC, in Woodbridge. Questions or comments can be forwarded to amitychiropractic@choiceonemail.com