How to Sleep Better
By Valerie Kalfrin
For something so essential and refreshing, a good night’s sleep can be elusive. Children, pets, a snoring partner, a worried mind, even TV and bright lights all can disrupt our slumber. In general, healthy adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but getting the proper amount of shut-eye can be tricky.
Women, typically, are more sleep-deprived than men. According to research from the Better Sleep Council, sixty-eight percent of the women in a survey said they slept less than an average of eight hours per night. The top three factors that affected their sleep: Stress related to work or family issues; colds and allergies; and uncomfortable mattresses or pillows. If you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep, or feeling excessively drowsy during the day, read these tips to learn how to sleep better.
Establish a regular bedtime routine and wake-up schedule.
Setting established times for sleeping and waking up — even on weekends — is one way to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms. Performing the same soothing activities each night (soaking in a warm bath, listening to calm music, or reading a book) also cues your body to fall asleep.
Let’s face it: Nighttime tends to be when many of us pay bills, work on the computer, discuss family issues and catch up with household chores. But these activities activate your problem-solving side and can ratchet up your worries and stress. Stop them about two to three hours before you’re ready for sleep. (If you’re unable to “turn off” your brain even after finishing your work, talk to your doctor about relaxation therapy, or try some restful yoga poses.)
Research shows that people who exercise daily – say, 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise – have better luck falling asleep. But plan accordingly: If exercise energizes you, don’t do it before bedtime, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist known as “The Sleep Doctor” because of his specialty in sleep disorders. Aim to get in your workout about four hours before bedtime.
Prime your bedroom.
Use your bedroom just for sleep and sex, not working on a laptop, watching TV or playing video games. Reading can help you relax and feel drowsy, but not if you do it in a bright room; Breus suggests using a book light or a 45-watt bulb at your bedside table. Create an environment that is dark, cool, comfortable and conducive to sleep with dark curtains, a fan, a sound soother or white-noise machine, an eyeshade and earplugs (especially if your partner snores). Breus recommends earplugs with a noise level at 32 or below so you can still hear a fire alarm or your alarm clock. Incidentally, if having your alarm clock within view makes you anxious, tuck it out of sight in a drawer or on the floor by the bed.
Upgrade your mattress and pillows.
If you can’t remember when you bought your mattress, you’re probably due for a new one. A quality mattress lasts roughly nine or 10 years. Pillows should be replaced every year, Breus says. Choose one based on whether you have allergies, your preferred sleep position (on your side, back or stomach) and whether you have back pain.
Dine light at night.
Finish eating a large meal at least two hours before you go to bed, especially if you’re having spicy foods, which might cause heartburn. Breus says that a snack of cereal and milk or high-glycemic-index foods such as graham crackers or pretzels about four hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep. Milk or yogurt contain L-tryptophan, which helps your body settle down.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking at night.
Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes are stimulants that not only make it difficult to fall asleep, but also tend to interrupt your sleep when you do nod off. Breus recommends having coffee, tea, chocolate or soda in the morning or early afternoon and switching to water or fruit juice by about 3 p.m. to ensure the caffeine is out of your system. If you like a drink or two with dinner, follow up each glass with an equal amount of water, which will keep you from becoming dehydrated and allow you to sleep peacefully.
Valerie Kalfrin is a writer in the Tampa, Fla., area. Her work has appeared in The Tampa Tribune, Ladies’ Home Journal, Poynter.org and 83DegreesMagazine.com.