Did you know that America is one of the most sleep-deprived countries in the world. Some 70 million people in the United States have a sleep problem. One-quarter of America’s adults say their sleep problems have some impact on their daily lives, according to a National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll.
If you think you need to sleep better, you probably do. Sleep is the most underrated health habit. Getting the right amount makes you look better, eat better, feel better and have more energy for everything else you want to do.
If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping track of what you eat by writing it down can help you get a better idea of what you’re eating, control portion sizes and make healthy choices.
With sleep, it’s the same idea. Keeping a sleep log makes you more aware of your sleep patterns and often sheds light on what may be contributing to sleep problems. That’s why starting your sleep log is step one. Before you learn more about sleep and start doing specific activities to help you sleep better, you need to gain a clear and accurate picture of your sleep patterns.
Our mind and body don’t have a switch to just “turn off” whenever we want. Which means that you can’t expect to run around at full speed until 10 p.m. and then get into bed and – click! – fall asleep by 10:05.
You need to unwind before you go to bed. If you’re a parent, you know that bedtime routines are a big deal for kids. A typical routine may include taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth and then reading a story. Having the same routine every night helps children physically and mentally prepare for sleep. The same goes for grown-ups, and yet many of us don’t realize the importance of an evening routine. As you go through the steps of your routine night after night, your body starts getting used to knowing that this is the time to prepare for sleep.
Scientists have found that sleep deprivation impacts hormones that are involved in appetite regulation, and the effects on these hormones may lead to overeating and weight gain.
The numbers back up the science: An estimated 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. And an estimated 63 percent of American adults do not get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. Coincidence? Probably not. The link between weight gain and sleep is supported by epidemiologic data. In 1960, adults slept an average of 8.5 hours a night. By 2002, most were sleeping less than seven hours nightly. Along with this decrease in average sleep time, we have seen an increase in the average weight of our population. In 1960, only a quarter of adults were overweight, and obesity was practically nonexistent. Today, more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and nearly one in three is obese.
Think about all the factors that can interfere with a good night’s sleep – from pressure at work and family responsibilities to unexpected challenges, such as layoffs, relationship issues or illnesses. It’s no wonder that quality sleep is sometimes elusive.
Although you might not be able to control all of the factors that interfere with your sleep, you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep.
Start with these simple sleep tips:
1. Determine Your Personal Sleep Quotient (PSQ)
Pick a bedtime when you’re likely to fall asleep quickly, and make sure it’s at least eight hours before you need to get up. Keep to this bedtime for the next week and note when you wake up each morning. If you need an alarm to wake up, if it’s difficult to get out of bed or if you’re tired during the day, eight hours isn’t enough sleep for you. Move your bedtime up by 15 or 30 minutes the next week. Continue doing this each week until you awaken without an alarm and feel alert all day. When you determine what you think is an ideal bedtime, cut 15 minutes off it to see if you’re sleepy the next day. If so, add those 15 minutes back — and you’ve nailed your PSQ.
2. Pay Attention to What You Eat and Drink
Don’t go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the toilet.
Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine – which take hours to wear off – can wreak havoc with quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
3. Limit Daytime Naps
Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep – especially if you’re struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes and make it during the mid afternoon.
If you work nights, you’ll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight – which adjusts your internal clock – doesn’t interrupt your daytime sleep.
4. Include Physical Activity in Your Daily Routine
Exercise raises endorphin levels to deepen sleep and make it more efficient and restful. Timing is important, though. The best time to exercise isn’t “early morning” – an extra hour of sleep does more for your health than running around in a half-awake state. The best time to work out is 5-7 p.m. Exercising at these times is more likely to enhance your nighttime sleep. But avoid strenuous exercise (except pleasurable sex!) within three hours of bedding down. That’s because exercise elevates core body temperature for five to six hours. In order to feel drowsy and stimulate the release of melatonin, body temperature needs to be dropping.
5. Manage Stress
When you have too much to do – and too much to think about – your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace to your life, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.
6. Stick to a Sleep Schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. There’s a caveat, though. If you don’t fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you’re tired. If you agonize over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.
7. Create a Bedtime Ritual
Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music – preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.
Be wary of using the TV or other electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.
8. Get Comfortable
Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there’s enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you – or insist on separate sleeping quarters.
9. Give Yourself Time to Wake Up
Even with adequate rest, don’t expect to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as the cliche goes. Your body is designed to gradually become more alert, reaching a high point in late morning and again in the late afternoon or early evening. So if you need to be at your best first thing in the morning, adjust your schedule accordingly.
10. Make Up for Lost Sleep As Soon as Possible
Every two hours of wakefulness requires a repayment of one hour of sleep. Catch up on sleep by going to bed earlier rather than sleeping later. Don’t try to make up for large sleep losses during the week by sleeping in on the weekend. This is like trying to get fit or lose weight by doing all your exercising or dieting on Saturdays and Sundays. If you sleep until noon on Sundays, you won’t be very tired come your regular bedtime and you’ll have to crawl to work with the Monday-morning blahs.
11. Buzz Off: Avoid Caffeine After 2 p.m.
It’s the magic bullet that allows “sleepy you” to make it through the day — the most widely used drug in the world. Unfortunately, it’s also a major cause of insomnia. Any coffee (or caffeinated tea, soda, energy drink or chocolate bar) after 2 p.m. will probably disrupt your sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours which means that six hours after your last sip, half the caffeine is still in your body.
12. Last Call: Avoid Alcohol Three Hours Before Bed
Many people believe that a nightcap facilitates sleep, but that’s a tired old wives’ tale. Alcohol is not a sedative. A drink after work or with dinner is fine because your body will have plenty of time to absorb the alcohol. But if you drink within three hours of bedtime, it will damage the quality of your rest.
13. Cool Off: Set the Thermostat at 65 Degrees
This is the ideal sleeping temperature. If you’re used to it being sauna-like, reduce the temperature gradually. A bedroom that’s too warm can even induce nightmares. If 65 degrees feels frigid, add a blanket, night cap, pair of socks, a special friend or a warm puppy.
14. Dim the Lights: Use 45-Watt to 65-Watt Bulbs
Light is one of the most powerful cues for initiating and maintaining wakefulness. The lighting in your bedroom should provide a soft, warm glow. Avoid halogen lamps and fluorescent fixtures. Choose low-wattage, tungsten bulbs. Use a small lamp with a dimmer for reading in bed. Gradually lowering the brightness will fatigue your eyes and promote drowsiness.
15. Shut Out the Light
Once the lights are out, make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. If city lights are shining through a curtain or shade, try blackout drapes. If light from a bathroom or hall is sneaking under the door, cover the crack with a rolled-up towel. Wearing an eye mask is another alternative.
16. Dress for Rest – or Wear Nothing at All
Soft, loose-fitting, breathable garments are ideal. Do not wear nightclothes that are too light or heavy for the season. Cotton is a great choice for nightwear because it’s comfortable and it breathes. When the weather (or the situation) warrants, by all means try sleeping in the nude. It’s conducive to great sleep.