Getting Enough Rest? Here Are 5 Tips for Better Sleeping
Did you know that 35% of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)? What’s more, people who routinely don’t catch enough winks at night are more likely to also be obese, current smokers, and not physically active.
Sleep plays an incredible role in the body’s ability to repair and refresh itself following your waking hours. Everything from your ability to focus to the development and growth of your muscles—and even the quality of your tears—is tied to a good night’s rest. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommends that adults should receive, at a minimum, 7 hours of sleep each night for healthy function.
But after taking a look at the numbers, it’s clear that most Americans shortchange their sleep for a variety of reasons. Not only is a lack of quality rest a detriment to the human body’s physical performance, but it negatively affects psychological factors such as happiness and mindfulness. Taken onto the road, drowsy driving is an under addressed concern that is responsible for an estimated 6,400 deaths each year. Getting behind the wheel after staying awake for 20 hours or more is equated to driving with the U.S. legal limit of blood-alcohol concentration…in other words, feeling slightly drunk.
So what are some ways to not only improve sleep, but also get into the habit of receiving enough sleep on a regular basis? We’ve compiled 5 tips to help you get the most out of your bedtime…for a lifetime!
1. Wind Down One Hour Before Bed
Your body relies on specific cues to help it determine when it’s time to settle down for the evening: dim lighting, reduced physical activity, slower digestion, and quieter thoughts, to name a few. Any indicators that say “the day is over, it’s time to relax” help to reinforce a better night’s sleep when all is said and done.
Up to an hour prior to bed, try taking a break from anything work-related, screen-related, and food-related. In particular, digital screens often emit blue wavelengths of light that trick your brain into believing it be daylight, making it more difficult to get your body’s natural production of melatonin flowing. Likewise, food digestion is usually a signal to your body that there is still work to be done…and speaking of work, you’ll want to distance yourself from your normal work routine as much as possible when it’s time to hit the hay.
And if you’re a late night snacker? Instead of reaching for the chips, try drinking water to help you feel full without encouraging your body and mind to stay awake.
2. Read a Book
Taking your mind away from your worries by reading a good book (ideally a physical book rather than a screen-based service) is a fantastic way to ease your brain into the pillow. Although reading is an activity that is far from monotonous (as long as you read something you enjoy!), the steady work your brain is required to do while skipping from word to word is effective at the end of the day when combined with an overall decrease in physical activity. Remember to use warm, proper lighting so you don’t have to strain your eyes!
One study by Mindlab International of the University of Sussex in 2009 discovered that reading for just six minutes reduces stress by 68%, making it a far better option for relaxing than going for a walk or watching a movie. Try picking up an educational book so you can learn something new while getting ready for sleep—two birds with one stone!
3. Perform Stretches
While you might guess that stretching will only get your blood flowing and thus give you unnecessary energy before bed, studies have demonstrated different conclusions. Slow stretches classified as “meditative movements” have been reported to significantly improve sleep quality, so activities like yoga are often great choices before you doze off.
The key is to keep your stretching gentle so as not to elevate your heart rate too much. Besides granting better sleep, light yoga before bed can also help you avoid any cramps or stiffness you might experience during your slumber, resulting in a smoother transition out of the bedroom in the morning.
If you don’t know where to start, sleepadvisor.org has a concise list of good stretches to perform before you get in the sheets.
4. Put on Your Favorite (Relaxing) Music
Music is a great motivator for a lot of activities, so it might come as no surprise that it can also aid your body in winding down for the evening.
While you encourage your body to sleep within one hour before bed, try putting on some of your favorite calming tunes to promote the downtime even further. Some specific types of music—such as classical music—work better than others and have been demonstrated to lower blood pressure by taking your mind off that crazy day you just had.
Don’t worry if you aren’t a fan of slow, soothing music—any of your favorite songs should do the trick. Just remember you’re trying to relax, not get hyped for a quarter-mile sprint!
5. Dedicate Time for Sleep
This is perhaps the biggest tip out of them all. If you can’t carve out a period of dedicated sleep time and stick to it routinely, then your sleep schedule isn’t going to become any better.
Establishing a regular circadian rhythm is important to the effectiveness of your sleep schedule. Going to bed on time (and at a time that allows you to get at least 7 hours in) consistently is the key to developing good sleeping habits. If you find you’re too busy to sacrifice even 30 minutes of pre-bedtime practices, then you might want to examine your schedule and see if you can make some room.
Be strict (read: non-negotiable) with your bedtime hours. After a week or so of dedicated sleep hours, your body will begin to get used to the rhythm, allowing for easier and better rest for many days to come.
Lastly, if you have tried everything you can think of to find quality rest and nothing is working, make it a point to see your doctor. You might have undiagnosed insomnia, or another sleeping disorder that might represent the underlying problem.