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The Keys to Getting Better Sleep

Getting Better Sleep Can Help You Feel Better

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Updated October 24, 2009

As we know, dealing with the diagnosis of HIV can affect the body and mind in many different ways. Both the physical impact of illness and medications and the burden of coping with an HIV diagnosis can result in trouble sleeping. People living with HIV are often troubled by poor sleep patterns. Either they have problems falling asleep or staying asleep. But there are ways of getting better sleep. In fact, with the right approach getting better sleep is just a matter of following a few simple tips and suggestions. By getting better sleep, the body is able to get the rest and recharging it needs. Better sleep helps the body fight off illness and makes it possible to exercise and stay active; two factors essential to staying healthy. Let's look at what things disrupt our sleep and ways of getting better sleep each night.

Why Do HIV Positive People Have Trouble Sleeping?

For most people who have trouble sleeping, the primary cause is their personal sleep habits, also known as their sleep hygiene. In fact, poor sleep hygiene is the most common problem encountered by all people who have trouble sleeping, not just people with HIV. What we do before we go to bed and where we go to bed can greatly impact the quality of our sleep. However, people living with HIV also have other issues that can disturb their rest. Some of these include:
  • The Effect of Medications
    Medications used to treat HIV and its associated conditions can affect your sleep. Some make you drowsy, meaning you sleep at unusual times of the day: e.g. at your desk at work or while watching television in the middle of the day. Being drowsy throughout the day can disrupt your sleep habits, specifically it affects when you go to bed and when you wake each day. Other medications make it difficult to stay asleep or fall asleep. They can cause you to feel anxious or "jittery" making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

  • The Need for Sleeping Pills
    It sounds ironic but the continued need and use of sleeping medications can affect the quality of your sleep. Besides developing a dependence on sleep medication, many people report feeling "drowsy" or "drugged" the morning after taking a sleeping medication. In fact, many people say the drowsiness they feel the morning after taking a sleeping medication is far worse than how they feel if they have one night of disrupted sleep.

  • The Nature of Illness
    Unfortunately, illnesses such as HIV disrupt our sleep on occasion. This is especially true if you are not feeling well or are fighting an opportunistic infection. Many times, concern and anxiety for your state of health will affect your ability to sleep as well.

Tips to Getting Better Sleep

Thankfully, there are ways to improve your chances of getting a good night sleep. Simple steps you can take each night to help you get a good night sleep and feel well rested each day.
  • Create and Stick to a Sleep Schedule
    The human body will get accustom to going to sleep and waking up about the same time each day. That tendency is disrupted when we constantly change the time we go to bed and the time we wake. Set a schedule of when you will go to bed and when you will wake and stick to it as much as possible. This allows the body to get into a pattern, making better sleep more likely.

  • Sleep at Night
    Unless your work schedule keeps you up all night, your sleeping should be done at night. In other words, no long naps during the day. While it is very tempting to lay on the sofa and nap for an hour or two (especially after a hard day) it will disrupt your sleep pattern and make falling asleep at night much more difficult.

  • Watch What You Eat and When You Eat It
    Eating certain foods or eating late at night can disrupt your sleep. Food and drink with caffeine such as coffee, tea, and chocolate should be avoided as your bedtime approaches. A good rule of thumb is not to eat after you have dinner and not to drink caffeinated beverages after lunch. Prior to bedtime avoid foods that are spicy or high in sugar. In short, foods like these that stimulate your body should be avoided 4-6 hours before your bedtime.

  • Avoid Alcohol Before Bedtime
    While alcohol can make you drowsy and even induce sleep, after a few hours the alcohol is metabolized and leaves the body, which has the opposite effect -- it acts as a stimulant. Like other foods and drink, alcohol should be avoided 4-6 hours before bedtime.

  • Exercise...but at the Right Time
    Doesn't it figure? We are always preaching exercise and how good it is for you and now we are telling you not to. Actually, exercise is great just not too close to bedtime. Exercise gets your body's engine revving so to speak in high gear, making it difficult to fall asleep. Exercise for certain; just do it earlier in the day.

  • Create a Good Sleep Environment
    Your sleep environment is very important. A clean, comfortable bed with comfortable bed linens are a must. The temperature should not be too warm or too cold. Comfortable bed clothing will help you feel like it is time for bed. Finally, block out daylight and noise as best you can. Light blocking shades are very effective in blocking out the light. Use ear plugs if you need to in order to minimize noise while you are trying to sleep. However, some people find "white noise" or soothing background sounds helpful when trying to fall asleep. Examples include rainfall, the wind, or nature sounds.

Speak with Your Doctor

If the above tips have not been helpful, talk with your doctor about your sleep issues. Many times, difficulty sleeping can be a sign that there is something going on with your health; physical and/or emotional. Your doctor can also help you sort through any issues that are preventing a good night sleep. In fact, sleep studies can be done to assess any physical issues, e.g sleep apnea, that are disrupting your sleep.

Sources

Breus, MJ; "Sleep Hygiene: Solutions for Better Sleep"; 29 Jun 2005.

University of Maryland Sleep Disorders Center; "Sleep Hygiene: Helpful Hints to Help You Sleep"; 2 Nov 2007.

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