We all have days (sometimes weeks) when we know we aren’t getting optimal sleep. Life is unpredictable, and it happens – we go to bed late, get up early, or maybe both. Most experts say we should be getting about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. And yet, one new study finds that not only are Americans getting less sleep, the quality of that sleep has declined, too.
But more and more, we are learning that good sleep (in both quality and quantity) is vitally important in every aspect of our life, from exercise performance to weight management, brain function and more. According to WebMD, giving your body the proper sleep it needs can result in a sharper brain, help boost your mood, deliver better heart health, improve athletic performance, steady your blood sugar, help ward off germs and play a role in weight control. But an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, and new research suggests a link between chronic poor sleep and increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
So, what can you do to improve your sleep? Developing healthy sleep habits and routines is key. It’s the rare person who won’t have a bad night’s sleep once in a while, but these tips can help set you up for more of the good ones!
Establish a sleep routine. According to the Sleep Foundation, choose a consistent time to retire and rise, and stick to it, even on weekends. Practice a relaxing ritual – maybe it’s a favorite cup of herbal tea, meditation, or even legs up the wall. Avoid naps, especially long ones and late in the day. Read a favorite book or do something that is calming. If you do have trouble sleeping, many experts suggest getting up briefly to go to another room, doing something calm in dim light, and then returning to bed.
Unplug. Studies suggest that blue light – like that from computer screens and smart phones, can disrupt your sleep. Blue light, like that from the sun, is important during the daytime to regulate performance and mood. But at night it can wreak havoc with your body’s internal clock and production of melatonin. Limit screen time before bed, or wear blue-light blocking glasses.
Food & Drink. Try to avoid big meals, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco before bed. Some people swear by magnesium spray or a magnesium drink before bed to help calm muscles and mind alike, while others recommend a sip of tart cherry juice.
Cover story. An inviting, peaceful and calm oasis is key to getting a good night’s sleep. Invest in good quality mattresses and pillows, in natural fabrics. Keep the room dark and cool. Some couples who sleep in the same bed find that having individual covers drastically improves their sleep quality. This is common in Europe, where double beds have one fitted sheet on the bottom, but two single duvets on top – one for each person – so they can adjust their coverage throughout the night without disturbing the other occupant in the bed.
Consult an expert. Sometimes, it’s important to seek out an expert. If you or your partner or family think a health condition or other issue may be impacting your sleep on a regular or prolonged basis, you may want to consult your doctor or a sleep specialist to help with insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome or other conditions.
Like most things in life, becoming a “good sleeper” might take some practice. If you have a bad night, refocus and recommit the next day to the things that you know will set you up for a good night’s sleep. Before you know it, you’ll be developing routines and habits that build the foundation for better, more consistent sleep.