This is your year – the one where your healthy habits take root and you reap the benefits of adequate sleep. Sure, you might have picked up some bad sleep habits in the last couple of years: instead of turning out the light, you read news on your phone, watched just one more Netflix show or fell down the rabbit hole of social media.
Don’t fret. You can turn the tide by creating healthy sleep goals before 2019 even gets underway. To help get you started on the road to wellness, we asked some leading experts for their suggestions on resolutions that can make 2019 a banner year for great sleep.
“The right environment can help you fall asleep faster and cause you to wake less often during the night,” says Rebecca Lee, a New York-based registered nurse and the founder of RemediesForMe.com, a site that provides information on benefits of natural remedies for different ailments, such as sleep deprivation. “If you have trouble sleeping, take steps to remedy anything that stimulates you, makes you uncomfortable or interferes with sleep.”
Even though you’re sleeping, your brain continues to register and process sound. Noise can disturb your sleep, wake you or bump you from deep to light sleep. According to Lee, nocturnal noise can also cause adverse physical reactions during sleep, such as raise your blood pressure and increase levels of stress hormones.
If you live on a busy city street, invest in a white noise machine. The constant ambient sound helps to mask disturbing noises. Earplugs and an eye mask can also help you fall into a deeper sleep.
Exposure to light at night can reset the body’s clock and delay sleep.
Your body temperature naturally decreases during sleep. If your bedroom is too hot, it can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep. Research suggests that a cool room between 60-65 degrees F (16 -19 C) helps keep your body at the right sleeping temperature. Be sure the covers you sleep under are the right thickness to keep you comfortable and not too warm. On hot summer nights, cool the room with a ceiling fan or a fan placed in front of an open window.
“One of the biggest things we do now that negatively affects our sleep is stare at our phones before bed,” says Chris Brantner, founder of sleepzoo.com, a reviewer of sleep-related goods. “In fact, surveys indicate that the majority of people are staring at their phones very close to going to sleep (within 30 minutes). The blue light from the screens is detrimental to our sleep because it negatively impacts melatonin production, making it more difficult to dive into the sleep cycle. A resolution to embrace: Turn off devices at least an hour before bed.
Exercise can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. It helps to reset the body’s clock, increasing daytime alertness and sleepiness at night. It also promotes sleep by naturally reducing stress and anxiety. Research has shown that exercise increases both total sleep time and the amount of deep, slow wave sleep.
Caffeine and alcohol can adversely affect your sleep, even if consumed 6 hours before bedtime. If you want to sleep soundly through the night, don’t drink caffeine after 5 p.m. and limit yourself to one small alcoholic beverage.
Can’t sleep? Likely stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia. Anxious thoughts and worries can trigger the release of stress-hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare the mind and body for ‘fight or flight’ by increasing arousal and alertness.
Some things to try: Use relaxing music can decrease anxiety, heart and respiratory rate and blood pressure. A meta-analysis of five clinical trials with a total of 170 participants found that music had a significant effect on the sleep quality of patients with sleep complaints.
Naps can help you become more energetic, productive and creative. It can also decrease work-related stress and prevent burnout. The most beneficial type of nap is one in which you fall asleep quickly, sleep well for a brief time and wake up feeling alert and reinvigorated. Timing is key. Most people are naturally a bit drowsy in the afternoon between 1-3 p.m. But don’t sleep for too long. There’s research to support 10-minute naps. Some studies have indicated they are better than 30-minute naps.
Exercise physiologist and author Sue Hitzmann recommends keeping the air a little moist during the cold winter months to support your breathing during sleep. Remember to clean it every couple of days so you don’t create the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.
“My best advice for sleep health is to ‘baby yourself,’” says Dr. Tara Nayak, a naturopathic physician practicing in Philadelphia, PA. “For those of us that have raised children, we know that a sleep ritual is important to establish a consistent sleep pattern as a baby grows up and starts to sleep through the night. I encourage my adult patients to do the same thing.”
She suggests creating a bedtime ritual focused on the senses that should be repeated every night at the same time. “It’s important for our bodies to have routine because it helps to regulate our internal clocks that are important for signaling hormone and neurotransmitter release,” she adds.
Those rituals should include making sure your bedroom is as dark as possible, using aromatherapy, like an essential oil diffuser, a pillow mist, or scented bath (lavender and wintergreen recommended), linens that feel indulgent, sipping herbal tea, such as chamomile, valerian, or passionflower, and finally, embracing silence for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Magnesium facilitates sleep-regulating melatonin (sleep hormone) production, relieves muscle tension that can disrupt sleep and prevent restful sleep and activates GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, and its activation favors sleep.
“Most Americans (about 75%) do not get their RDA of this mineral,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, medical advisory board member, Nutritional Magnesium Association and author of The Magnesium Miracle. “This is the sleep mineral and anti-stress mineral that all of us need.”
Prepare a water bottle with a teaspoon or two of magnesium citrate powder and sip this throughout the day and have it available at your bedside. Take a big swig when you wake up in the middle of the night. In this form, it is fast acting and highly absorbable. It will help you get restful, rejuvenating sleep.
High-quality fabrics next to your skin just make you feel good, so choose jammies accordingly. Nina Clark, founder of Nightire.com, an online nightwear retailer, says that being strategic about what your sleep attire is made of can help to regulate your body temperature during the night. In turn, it can promote better slumber.
Consider sleepwear made from bamboo. It’s silky on the skin and is a natural moisture-wicker, which helps regulate body temperature. Whatever you buy, make sure it fits well. Looser pajamas move more easily over your body when you sleep. Skip designs with buttons, snaps, and tags, which can be irritating. Of course, you can always opt to sleep nude…
“My favorite habit for a New Year’s resolution is what I call the 10-minute worry, aka 10MW,” says Michael Duncan, editor of BeRightLight.com, a site that reviews wake-up lights and sunrise alarms. “Give yourself 10 minutes to worry before bed and write them down. All the to-dos, problems and ideas go down on paper to help empty your mind so you can relax.” He says that doing the 10MW regularly will help you fall asleep faster and boost your productivity in the morning because you already have your list of to-dos on hand.
These alarm clocks are specially designed to glow increasingly brighter as when it’s time to wake up. “It is a great tool to restart your natural wake-up response,” Duncan. “Especially in dark wintery January, waking up on time requires some serious effort to overcome our hardwired wake-up-at-sunrise brains. If you’re suffering from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) a suitably powerful therapy light can get your brain back on track.
Is your preferred sleep position the best one for your health? Kansas City-based wellness practitioner and founder of Your Wellness Connection Dr. Michelle Robin recommends protecting your neck and back sleeping on your side or back. Sleeping on your back is the best sleep position for the health and alignment of your spine. If you’re a devoted back sleeper, put a pillow under your knees. Lying completely flat can put stress on your lower back and cause you to wake up in pain.
To keep your neck and head supported throughout the night, even as your muscles relax and you are no longer holding your head up, you need a supportive pillow that your neck can rest on, according to Dr. Robin.
Chronic snoring could be sign of sleep apnea, a serious condition with critical side effects. It puts you at very high risk of developing chronic diseases and complications, from heart failure and stroke, to diabetes, insomnia and even death. “When a person suffers from sleep apnea and is not being treated or being compliant with their treatment, their body is being deprived of the oxygen it needs to function normally,” says Al Greene, vice president of marketing with Bleep (a company that manufacturers and sells an alternative to traditional CPAP machines). Talk to your physician about getting tested.
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