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There is nothing more important to your day than a good night’s sleep - something 35 percent of Americans fail to get.
“Just get more sleep” is easier said than done, though.
A 2009 JAMA Internal Medicine study found that poorer and less sleep in the two weeks before being exposed to the common cold was associated with lower resistance to the illness. So how can you aim for better sleep?
“Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” said Dr. Michael J. Twery, a sleep specialist at the National Institutes of Health, told the New York Times (1).
Here are three areas that you can make small changes in to catch a few more Z’s every night.
One simple way to help you sleep better is to keep your caffeine intake confined to the mornings and early afternoon.
“Caffeine taken 6 hours before bedtime has important disruptive effects on sleep and provides empirical support for sleep hygiene recommendations to refrain from substantial caffeine use for a minimum of 6 hours prior to bedtime,” the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine states. (2)
Another small change that will help would be to keep a few hours between your alcoholic drinking and bedtime. If you’re drinking right before bed, it may be easier to fall asleep at first, but it will also be more likely that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night.
“The effects on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in the first half of sleep appear to be dose related with low and moderate doses showing no clear trend on REM sleep in the first half of the night whereas, at high doses, REM sleep reduction in the first part of sleep is significant,” the abstract of a 2013 study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research stated.(3) “Total night REM sleep percentage is decreased in the majority of studies at moderate and high doses with no clear trend apparent at low doses.”
For those who find anxious thoughts running through their heads while they try to count sheep, keeping an evening journal can be helpful.
It can even start before you get into bed. Put on some relaxing music about an hour before you go to bed, sit down and make some to do lists for the next day so that it doesn’t have to stay on your mind while you wind down. You can even do this from a warm bath, another activity that helps to calm your body and mind.
If you still find your thoughts racing while you sleep, write down what you’re thinking. Keep a pad and pen next to your bed, so that hopefully, it can be dealt with in the morning.
A Good Sleep Environment
Turn your thermostat down when it’s time for bed. A 1997 study suggests that "a rapid decline in core body temperature increases the likelihood of sleep initiation and may facilitate an entry into the deeper stages of sleep.” (4)
Find a mattress that fits you. You should replace your mattress every 5 to 10 years, and because they’re expensive, most people stretch that out for as long as they can. However, you are probably losing enough sleep to cause lost productivity if you’re sleeping on an old or uncomfortable mattress. You can use a resource like Tuck’s mattress reviews to find the best mattress for you.
It can also help to keep a dark and quiet bedroom. Lights, sunlight, in particular, tell your brain that you should be awake, so get some light blocking curtains or a sleep mask. If you can keep electronics out of the room or out of reach from the bed, it’s highly recommended.
1 - “Cheating Ourselves of Sleep” by Jane E. Brody for New York Times “Well” Blog
2 - “Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 hours Before Going to Bed” by Christopher Drake, PhD, Timothy Roehrs, PhD, John Shambroom, and Thomas Roth
3 - “Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep” from Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research by Irshaad O. Ebrahim, Colin M. Shapiro, Adrian J. Williams and Peter B. Fenwick
4 - “Nighttime drop in body temperature: a physiological trigger for sleep onset?” by P.J. Murphy and S.S. Campbell.
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