When was the last time you woke up feeling truly refreshed, re-energized, and ready to face the world with a good night’s sleep under your belt? If you’re like most Americans, you’re either wracking your brains right now or maybe even laughing out loud at the very thought.
According to a study recently published in the academic journal Sleep, almost one-third of all Americans get fewer than six hours of sleep each night. That’s simply not enough. What’s more, the snoozes we do log don’t tend to be particularly sound. There’s many reasons for this including sleep disorders, so it’s definitely worth getting tested!
Luckily, there are some simple, tried-and-true steps you can take to make sure you get more sound sleep. So grab a cup of coffee and read on!
Limit Your Caffeine
If it’s after, say, 2 p.m., you might want to make that cup of coffee decaf. Caffeine is one of the major culprits of insomnia and poor sleep, of course. This simple step should be one of the first ones you take if you are trying to improve your ZZZs.
Say No to That Nightcap
Similarly, having a cocktail or glass of wine shortly before you turn in probably seems smart. Alcohol relaxes you, right?
Well, yes, it does. That nighttime chardonnay or scotch could help you drift off faster. But chances are it’s going to disrupt your sleep later on. So enjoy that drink with dinner or while you’re watching TV in the evening, but cut yourself off an hour or so before you head to bed.
Get Good Exercise—At the Right Time
Putting in half an hour on the elliptical or doing a HIIT workout just before you turn in might sound like a good idea. After all, what better way to ensure a good night’s rest than to wear your body out?
However, experts say that exercising late at night will probably backfire on you. It can amp you up and make it even harder to fall asleep. So while exercise, in general, is one of the keys to good sleep, make sure to complete your Crossfit or your kickboxing at least three hours before bedtime.
Try Gentle Movement
On the other hand, some gentle movement might be just what you need to prepare your body for rest. Try tai chi or yoga. It’s not necessary to go full-on downward dog, either. A quick five- or ten-minute practice that focuses on stretching and eliminating tension from your muscles can do you a world of good.
Dim Those Screens
Is your smartphone the last thing you look at every night and the first thing you reach for every morning? You’re not alone, but you are doing yourself a disservice. The blue light emitted from your device can really do a number on your body’s production of melatonin—a hormone related to your sleep-wake cycle.
It’s best if you turn off the phone, tablet, and laptop two hours before you plan to get your shut-eye. Take this time to read a book or magazine, meditate, or work on a relaxing craft. If you must use electronics late into the evening, be sure to install a blue-light filter. This will help mitigate potential sleeplessness.
Stay Out of Bed
After a long, difficult day at the office or in the classroom, it’s awfully tempting to crawl in bed with your favorite takeout meal, snuggle with your partner or your pet, and zone out while catching up on your Netflix queue. But choosing to curl up on your couch when you want to unwind is a better option.
Your bed should be used for two things, and two things only: sleep and sex. When you are not engaged in those activities, stay away. Why? It’s simple association, say sleep experts. As soon as you get under the covers, your brain will get the signal that it’s time to power down for the evening. If you spend all your time lounging in bed, your poor brain might confuse bedtime with binge-watching time.
Set Yourself Up for Sound Sleep
What’s on your bed? Is it the same lumpy old mattress that you’ve been sleeping on for the last 10 years, the same ratty old comforter that you bought when you went to college? If so, it’s time for an upgrade.
A mattress is a major investment, one that has a direct impact on your quality of life, so take your time choosing one. Do your homework by reading reviews and testing the top contenders in person.
Selecting high-quality cotton sheets and a cozy down-alternative comforter is another way to pamper yourself—you deserve it!— and set yourself up for a great eight hours of shut-eye. Don’t forget a pillow that provides plenty of support for your neck and head, too.
Keep the Environment Conducive to Snoozes
Now that your bed is comfortable and supportive, turn your attention to the surrounding room. Most folks sleep more soundly if their bedroom is slightly cool (plus, it feels super-cozy to snuggle up in those soft sheets and covers!).
Sleeping with a fan can help achieve the ideal temperature and the white noise it offers is also conducive to snoozing. If you don’t care for this artificial breeze, try a white noise machine. There are also plenty of white-noise apps that you can customize—just be sure to set them up beforehand so you’re not fooling with your phone right at lights out!
You’re Getting Very Sleepy…
A lot of people think hypnosis is nothing more than a silly party trick, but it actually works wonders for helping people sleep. Check out some of the bedtime hypnosis and meditation videos on YouTube. They won’t make you cluck like a chicken or reveal all your secrets. What they will do is help you empty your mind and relax your body, opening the door for a sound night’s sleep.
Ready for Your Best Sleep Ever?
Breaking old habits — like streaming Hulu while you snack between the sheets — can be difficult, so try working these small changes into your lifestyle over time. It’s also a smart idea to keep a sleep log, so you can see what methods work best and help you get good, sound sleep.
Watch Out for Sleep Disorders
Do you experience sleep-related breathing and snoring problems? If you do, you might have a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Symptoms for sleep apnea include breathing stops during sleep, suddenly waking up gasping and choking, excessive daytime sleepiness, and regular loud snoring. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a sleep specialist. Your health-care provider can prescribe you a sleep aid device called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The machine will feed pressurized air down your airway during sleep, so you can breathe regularly and get uninterrupted rest throughout the night.
Want to learn more about nutrition and how the foods we eat affect our well-being? Check out our blog posts on the topic!