It’s no secret that the United States has a problem with getting enough sleep. On average, adults should sleep for 7 to 9 hours per night. Instead, 40% of Americans average only 6 hours (or less). The rise of technology use doesn’t help, but there are things that can be done to ensure more restful sleep.
Here are some tips to help make the most of those nighttime hours.
Tune Out, Turn Off
A vacation from technology every so often is a great idea, but more importantly, a mini-vacation should be had every evening in order to prepare your body and mind for sleep. Melatonin isn’t just a supplement at the drugstore; your brain produces it when it receives signals that it’s bedtime. Darkness and a lack of blue light are extremely important in helping your brain to give you enough melatonin to fall asleep quickly.
Shut down your laptop or PC, put your phone on Do Not Disturb or Airplane mode, and turn off the television. All of these emit blue light, which signals your brain that it doesn’t need to settle down, just yet. Turn off energy-efficient lights, first, and turn out all lights 15 minutes before your bedtime. If you must have something to occupy yourself before then, try reading a book, working on puzzles or word games, or writing in a journal.
Practice Smart Snacking
Sometimes, in lieu of a warm drink, a snack is preferred. Some toast, a piece of fruit, even a sweet dessert – all of these are nice for midday, but sometimes the wrong foods can reduce your ability to stay asleep. Larger mixed meals are definitely in this category, and have also been linked to weight gain when eaten closer than a couple of hours before bedtime. In addition, the increased digestion requires more wakefulness.
There have been studies that support eating a nutrient-dense, single-ingredient snack before bed. This study can provide more information; the takeaway is that a warm glass of milk (< 200 calories) may be beneficial if consumed 30 minutes before bedtime, due to a protein called casein found in dairy products.
Limit Evening Caffeine Intake
A cup of tea or coffee can be relaxing to some folks. Warm liquid that tastes good and is familiar can calm the mind. Hiding in those innocuous beverages, however, is caffeine, which is known to wake up the mind by triggering adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone). If you must have something warm to drink while you wind down, try a caffeine-free herbal tea, such as chamomile or anise. Avoid peppermint tea – peppermint is another substance that keeps you awake.
Use White Noise
Sometimes noises can interfere with sleep, as your brain tries to work out where they’re coming from, and if they’re important. A fan or white noise machine can add a hum that drowns out things like dripping faucets, your neighbor’s dog, and the creak of the floors settling. Give yourself some variety with the sound of the ocean, rain, or even a thunderstorm. A plain old fan works, too, and if you get one with a HEPA filter, you can also help clean the air in your bedroom.
Some people use a “nightcap” to relax before bed. A glass of wine, a sip of scotch, a bottle of beer – the effects of alcohol on the human body are well-known. What may not be considered, however, is that when the alcohol wears off, so does the relaxation. This results in the same wakefulness found in chronic pain patients, and those given electric shocks during sleep, and can interrupt sleep, or even cease the sleep cycle completely.
Adjust the Temperature
Humans tend to sleep better in a cooler room, even if they bundle up with blankets to stay warm. The cooler temperature mimics the natural drop in temperature outside, which is an additional signal to the brain to produce melatonin.
The clothes you wear to sleep have an effect on this, as well. Feet are a surprising source of full-body temperature control, so figure out if socks can help or hinder your overall comfort.
Keep a Regular Bedtime
This is, perhaps, the most important factor. Keep a sleep log to see when your average bedtime is, and keep a record of how you feel the next day. Find that “sweet spot” (and make sure you’re getting at least 7 hours of sleep) and try to stick with it, beginning your relaxation ritual at least two hours before bed. Keep it up on the weekends, too – a couple of days can set you back. Avoid the snooze button, open the curtains, and let the sunshine kickstart a brand new day.
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