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If you're having difficulties getting 8 hour of shuteye a night, don't despair. With a few simple lifestyle changes, you can create a healthy sleep environment that makes it easier for you to fall asleep and sleep more soundly.
Strive to commit 7-8 hours a night to sleep. Over 20 percent of us sleep less than 6 hours per night, creating a serious deficit that has far-reaching health, safety and performance consequences.
Most of our bodily functions are on a strict schedule, anchored by our sleep and wake times. An irregular sleep routine disrupts many of the body’s rhythms, negatively affecting how we feel and perform. Unfortunately many of us stay up later and sleep in on the weekends (or our days off). When Monday rolls around, we have to revert to our weekly schedule. This can create the same harmful side effects as jet lag.
The “racing mind” is often cited by many as the reason they have trouble falling asleep at night. Learning to clear the mind and relax before sleep should be part of your bedtime routine. Avoid stimulating emotional activities prior to settling down for the night; instead read something enjoyable or listen to some favorite music. Organization of your next day’s affairs will also have a calming effect on your mind—many people find that a simple “to do” list in the evening eliminates angst at night.
Spend the last half hour of the day in dim light. Near our habitual bedtime the hormone melatonin begins to be secreted, beginning the physiological process of falling asleep. Bright light suppresses the release of melatonin and could interfere with your ability to fall asleep quickly and deeply. Likewise, if you have to get up in the middle of the night for any reason, avoid bright lights—dim night lights in the bedroom, halls and bathrooms will suffice.
A good habit to get into is to avoid all screens before bedtime, and keep them out of the bedroom all together. This includes televisions, computers, video games, phones and tablets. Not only might the content keep you awake, but many of today’s electronic devices produce sufficient amounts of light to interfere with the sleep process.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that lingers in the body for a long time. Half of any caffeine consumed remains in circulation six – seven hours later in most adults. That means a large latte and its 200 mg dose of caffeine to “pick you up” around 3 p.m. will have still have the stimulating effect of a normal 100 mg cup of coffee around bedtime! You may be so tired that you still fall asleep, but research clearly shows that caffeine lessens the quality of your sleep, perpetuating your need for it the next day. Caffeine also lurks in many soft drinks, chocolate products, energy drinks and even some pain medications. Read your labels.
Digestion generally competes with sleep, so it’s best to have dinner at least a couple of hours before bedtime. Large meals right before bed can also result in acid reflux, a major sleep disruption. Hunger can also interfere with sleep, so a light snack before bed would be in order. The ideal bedtime snack is a glass of milk and an oatmeal/raisin cookie (complex carbohydrate, grain, fruit and a little protein).
Alcohol has both sedative and stimulatory effects. As we drink and our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises, the alcohol has a stimulating effect. Once BAC peaks and begins to decline, the alcohol has a sedative effect. So depending on the timing of alcohol intake, it could facilitate quickly falling asleep, or inhibit it. Once asleep, alcohol metabolizes pretty quickly. By the middle of the sleep period, as the alcohol wears off, withdrawal symptoms begin. Studies indicate that at this point, sleep becomes fragmented and light; even though we are still technically asleep, the restorative properties of sleep are stripped away and we experience excessive daytime sleepiness. Even if your last drink was during “happy hour”, alcohol’s negative effects linger throughout the night.
Interestingly, a recent University of Michigan study revealed that alcohol consumption increases sleep disturbances in women more so than men. This possibly could be explained by the fact that women’s BAC levels fall faster after peaking than men’s do, leading to earlier (and longer) sleep disruption.
Alcohol is also known to exacerbate breathing problems, including snoring and sleep apnea. This could also result in disturbed sleep and daytime sleepiness.
Nearly everything about exercise is pro-sleep, with the exception of timing. Rigorous exercise increases core body temperature, heart rate and blood flow and heightens our alertness levels. Too close to bedtime, this will interfere with sleep. Regular exercise, though, reduces stress levels, increases physical functioning and enhances sleep.
Light interferes with sleep, as do loud, sudden noises. Keep the room as dark as possible, and if you live in a noisier area, try running a fan or a sound generator to mask occasional disturbances. Sixty-five degrees seems to be the best temperature to promote quality sleep
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I am throughly thrilled. This is the first time in YEARS that I fall asleep within a frew minutes and sleep so soundly, more comfortably than I never thought possible.