Sleeping better: The quest to thwart the effects of stress and anxiety

Many people now find themselves with all the time in the world to sleep – yet they can’t.

Snoo Smart Sleeper (photo credit: HAPPIEST BABY)
Snoo Smart Sleeper
(photo credit: HAPPIEST BABY)
It’s an unfortunate irony that, given the current social distancing mandates, many people now find themselves with all the time in the world to sleep – yet they can’t.
“Anxiety tends to increase the time it takes to fall asleep, arousals from sleep and, in some cases, can make it feel like an individual is not sleeping at all,” explains sleep expert Dr. W. Christopher Winter, MD. “The dangers of this include heart disease, dementia, hypertension, depression, and diabetes – not to mention that poor sleep affects our immune system.”
An easy way to boost sleep is to keep your room at around 18 degrees (Celsius), which research shows is the optimal temperature – though Dr. Winter notes that some people find it comforting to be more toasty, which explains the growing popularity of infrared sauna blankets (which can be purchased internationally via Gizmo Supply Co.). It’s equally important not to oversleep. Most people do best with around eight hours of sleep a night.
Keeping a sleep diary may also help.
“Keep the diary next to your bed and when you wake up write down how you slept, when you went to bed, what happened the previous day before you went to sleep, and what you ate – the idea is that you’ll be able to see a pattern and adjust behavior accordingly,” says  Christine Hansen, CEO of Sleep Like A Boss. For example, depending on your observations, you could try cutting caffeine, alcohol, or food before bed or you could stay away from bluelight at night, or perhaps move the TV out of the bedroom so as to train your brain that the bed is only for sleeping.
Other suggestions include not watching or reading about things that frighten you in the hours before bedtime.
“You wouldn’t dream of trying to put your child to sleep with a horror movie. When it comes to sleep, adults are simply big children, so do something calming like soaking in a bath or try natural treatments and supplements like melatonin, CBD or hemp oil (optimal dosing for sleep is 30 to 50 mg. of CBD or 150 to 250 mg. of whole hemp oil) or spray some lavender oil on your pillow,” suggests Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. and author of Fatigued to Fantastic!
IF YOUR mattress is more than 10 years old, you might want to consider a new one. A growing number of brands like Brooklyn Bedding and Zinus (which can be purchased in Israel), make it easy to find your best match online via questionnaires and various “help” options.
“There are a few tell-tale signs that it’s time to replace your mattress,” says vice president of product at Zinus, Jen Cha. “If your mattress begins to sag, it means that the mattress coils have weakened or the memory foam has lost its shape. If your mattress has begun to smell, irritate your allergies, or is marked with stains, it’s time to consider purchasing a new one and, if you start tossing and turning and waking up throughout the night, it could mean that your mattress has lost its comfort and support.”
How can we buy a mattress online without testing it out in person first? According to Brooklyn Bedding, as a general rule, those who sleep primarily on their sides need a soft-to-medium sleep surface to cushion shoulders, hips and knees, while stomach sleepers typically rely on a firmer surface to ensure proper spinal alignment. Back sleepers have the most latitude – it really comes down to personal preference for this type of sleeper. They also note that lighter build individuals (less than 60 kg.) tend to sleep better on softer mattresses. Medium-build sleepers (60 kg. to 105 kg.) do well with a medium firmness, while plus size sleepers (over 105 kg.) need a firmer mattress with greater support.
BUT ADULTS aren’t the only ones dealing with poor sleep.
 “Stress can affect babies’ sleep in the same way it can affect our sleep because they rely heavily on body cues and energy to communicate while they are learning how to verbalize thoughts, emotions, and desires,” says Annalaina Marks, founder of the online program, Full Feedings Method. “If I’m stressed, I know my children can sense it.”
For those struggling to get their baby to sleep, Marks says the key things are to feed fully, make sure they don’t sleep too much during the day, and to make sure they don’t stay awake too long. Marks gets into specific details via her online program ($9.99/month, including email support), where she teaches parents how to get their baby to consistently sleep through the night. To take it a step further, for new parents located in the U.S. smart baby camera monitoring system, Nanit, now allows for personalized sleep tracking, breathing motion monitoring, and coaching via their app.
For an idea of just how important focusing on optimal baby sleep is, Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and creator of the Snoo Smart Sleeper, says new parents get on average six hours of sleep broken into short stretches.
“This sleep deprivation can trigger issues like marital stress, breastfeeding failure, postpartum depression, and overweight babies and mothers.” He also underlines that 60% to 70% of babies who die in their sleep were in bed with their parents or in other unsafe sleep positions.
“Parents don’t do these things on purpose – they’re desperate, exhausted and looking for anything that can help.”
In response, Dr. Karp, who recently came to Israel to promote the Hebrew translation of his book The Happiest Baby on the Block, created the Snoo, which automatically rocks your baby to sleep and uses soothing white noise to boost sleep.
Sleeping on the back is the safest option for babies but, unfortunately, they’re not comfortable on their backs.
“Before they were born, babies had nine months of being in the fetal position, with noise louder than a vacuum cleaner and gentle rocking by the mother’s diaphragm with every breath she took,” explains Dr. Karp. “Flat on their backs, they feel like they’re falling and often startle themselves, so if you give back some of those calming sensations – which the Snoo does – you simulate the familiar, calming sensations they got in the womb.”
 Dr. Karp hopes that Sheba Hospital will conduct studies on the benefits of his novel bassinet – with the idea in mind that Israel’s National Health Insurance will eventually help cover its cost for new parents. In the meantime, his book details his popular “five S’s” baby calming technique: swaddling, side lying, shushing, swinging, and sucking, which work to simulate conditions inside the womb for better sleep for babies – and ultimately parents.