Top Tips to Help You Get the Sleep Your Body and Mind So Desperately Need
Looking for anything to help you finally get that elusive full night of sleep? Grasping at straws to find solutions for insomnia or frequent wakeups? Apparently, you are not alone. Although sleep needs greatly vary depending on age group and individuals, more than 35% of adults in the United States get less than 7 hours of sleep. A whopping 50-70 million American adults report having a sleep disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Sleep is such an integral part of overall good health. Poor sleep can negatively affect hormones and brain function. When we don’t sleep well, we often feel foggy-headed, unmotivated, and distractibility can skyrocket. Our odds of being at risk for disease increase and unhealthy weight gain can become a real challenge. Health experts have linked healthy sleep routines and patterns to greater physical and mental well-being. So how can we find the best solutions to help with better, more restorative nights of sleep?
First off, there are things that can be done during the daytime to help with the quality of your sleep. Waking up at the same time every single day can help maintain an ideal circadian rhythm. Enjoying outdoor sunshine during the day can also help set (or reset) your internal clock. In geographical areas with very little sunshine during various seasons, the use of lightbox therapy may be recommended. A healthy circadian rhythm is in part responsible for healthy daytime energy, quality of sleep, and length of a night’s sleep. Exposure to bright light for at least 2 hours a day can lead to at least an 80% increase in sleep efficiency. Regular exercise helps to promote restful nights of sleep. Harvard Medical Publishing points out that exercise stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol which pushes the body and brain into a more alert mode. It is therefore recommended that a workout be completed no later than 3 hours before bedtime.
If daytime grogginess is an issue, a nap can be just the solution! But keep in mind to nap well before 5 p.m. for best results and try to cap the nap between 20-30 minutes. Short, regularly scheduled naps can help with daytime efficiency and mood.
Another quick fix for daytime fatigue is caffeine and there’s no doubt it’s a popular choice. Between coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks, caffeine is consumed by 90% of the American population. Caffeine can boost energy, mood, and heighten focus. However, caffeine is a stimulant that can stay in the blood between 6-8 hours. Because of this, if consumed later in the day, caffeine can actually stimulate the nervous system and drastically reduce sleep quality. For those who already have trouble falling asleep or who suffer from insomnia, avoiding caffeine or opting for decaffeinated coffee or tea after 3 p.m. can help them wind down before counting sheep. Harvard Medical Publishing also suggests avoiding alcohol within 3 hours of hitting the sack, as it may first help when falling asleep but then acts as a stimulant after a couple of hours. Alcohol consumption later in the day can potentially lead to frequent wakeups and more disrupted fitful slumber.
Healthline points to the need to reduce blue light exposure in the evening. The light that’s emitted from our televisions, computers, and cell phones can mess with our circadian rhythm and keep us from releasing enough melatonin, a hormone that promotes relaxation and deep, restorative sleep. Some people opt to use blue-light-blocking glasses in the evenings to avoid eye strain and help manage interruptions with a proper daytime/nighttime cycle.
Beyond strategies for use during the day, prepping for sleep in the evening and nighttime can really help promote good sleep. Sleep experts maintain that the bedroom needs to be a calm, sleep-inducing environment. This translates into a dark, cool area and use of a white noise machine or earplugs so noises don’t disturb slumber. The use of blackout shades or curtains can be helpful. Harvard Medical Publishing recommends keeping the temperature between 60-75 degrees. Using an old-school alarm clock may also help keep electronics such as laptops and cell phones out of the bedroom.
A soothing sleep routine could help best prepare you for the night ahead. Reading a book, taking a warm bath, and practicing relaxation exercises have all been shown to help promote sleepiness. Avoid physically or psychologically stressful activities, such as important conversation, scary shows, or reviewing work emails, because this can cause a release of cortisol in the system, the stress hormone that increases alertness.
Just like avoiding caffeine, exercise, and alcohol too close to bedtime, you’ll also want to avoid heavy meals. While nobody wants to go to bed hungry, eating a meal that could cause discomfort or indigestion (think fried, greasy foods) may not be your best bet. Instead, opt for dairy (yogourt or a glass of milk), a banana (high in magnesium, which relaxes muscles, and melatonin, which encourages sleep), and other melatonin-rich foods such as nuts, tart cherry juice, hemp hearts, or pumpkin seeds.
If anxiety seems to get in the way of winding down, meditation or gratitude exercises could help slow the racing thoughts and ease the stress. Speak to a medical professional before trying sleep-promoting supplements. Consult reliable resources and experts to find out the best possible options for promoting a good night’s sleep.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Harvard Medical Publishing
Institute of Medicine
National Institute on Aging
National Sleep Foundation