It seems like every week that there’s coverage of some new study looking at the problems associated with getting too little sleep or finding clever new ways for us to get more of it.
But unless you’ve got endless amounts of time on your hands, it can be tough to keep up with all the new info. So I’ve done the work for you.
Here’s a look at some of the most fascinating sleep studies published this year. Use them to achieve more quality shut-eye in 2016 — and better health overall.
1. Mindfulness meditation promotes better sleep.
Compared to adults who underwent a standardized program designed to teach healthier sleep habits, participants who incorporated simple mindfulness techniques into their routine reported fewer symptoms of insomnia, depression, and fatigue.
2. Interrupted sleep is actually worse than short sleep.
Eight hours of shut-eye might not be all that restorative if you’re constantly being interrupted, suggests recent Johns Hopkins Medicine findings. After just two nights of poor sleep, subjects who were woken up several times throughout the night had worse moods compared to those who slept for less time overall but weren’t interrupted.
“When your sleep is disrupted throughout the night, you don’t have the opportunity to progress through the sleep stages to get the amount of slow-wave sleep that is key to the feeling of restoration,” explains lead study author Patrick Finan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
3. Problems controlling your emotions could lead to insomnia.
Are certain personality types more prone to insomnia than others? Maybe, according to new Swedish findings. Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 adults about their emotional regulation (like impulse control or emotional awareness) and sleep habits at the start of the study and again 6 to 18 months later.
They found that survey-takers who had gotten worse at regulating their emotions over time were 11 percent more likely to develop insomnia compared to people whose emotion regulation had stayed the same.
The takeaway? “These findings … suggest that teaching people strategies for regulating their emotions might help prevent new cases of insomnia to occur and decrease the risk of persistent insomnia,” explains lead researcher Markus Jansson-Fröjmark.
4. Nature could be the key to better sleep.
Whether it’s a tree-lined park or a serene beach, the great outdoors can help some people avoid counting sheep. In a large-scale survey of more than 255,000 people, researchers found those who reported the most nights of poor sleep were less likely to have access to natural spaces. The link was particularly strong for men and adults over 65.
People who lived near green spaces tended to be more active, and it’s well-known that exercising regularly can help you sleep better. “If there is a way for persons over 65 to spend time in nature, it would improve the quality of their sleep — and their quality of life — if they did so,” says study author Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, a University of Illinois professor of kinesiology and community health, as well as a faculty member in the University of Illinois’s Division of Nutritional Sciences.
5. You probably need fewer sleep meds.
Sometimes, your doctor might decide that taking sleep meds is the right strategy for temporarily treating your insomnia.
But new research shows you might need less medication than you think. A sleep medicine study involving 74 participants found that taking half of the standard amount of Ambien (5 mg instead of 10 mg) is effective as a maintenance dose.
“The full dose may or may not be required to get the initial effect, but certainly maintaining the effect can be done with less medication,” said the study’s senior author Michael Perlis, Ph.D., an associate professor in Penn’s department of psychiatry and director of the Penn Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program. Still, always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medication regimen.
6. Kids sleep better with a nighttime routine.
If bedtime has turned into a battle with your little one, you might want to think about instituting a nightly routine, according to recent research from the American Academy of Sleep medicine.
In a study of more than 10,000 children under age 6, experts found that having a regular bedtime helped kids fall asleep faster, wake up less throughout the night, and sleep longer. And those who also had a consistent bedtime routine — like a bath or a story before bed — slept an hour longer each night and had fewer behavior problems during the day.
7. Napping can help you think more clearly.
A full night’s sleep isn’t the only thing that can boost your brainpower. According to a recent University of Michigan study, taking a 60-minute nap can make it easier to solve difficult, frustrating problems and make you less impulsive.
The findings, researchers say, could be especially important for people who need to recharge while working long shifts, like health care workers. Fortunately, we know that shorter naps can help those with standard 9-to-5 jobs work smarter, too.
8. Eating less at night can help you deal with sleep deprivation.
Whether your obstacle to sleep is a new baby, a tight project deadline, or a pet that wants to play all night, there will be nights when eight hours of quality sleep just isn’t achievable. In those cases, limiting the nighttime snacks can help minimize the unpleasant consequences.
Recent University of Pennsylvania research found that eating lighter at night helps stave off the lack of alertness and difficulty concentrating that tends to accompany a night of fragmented sleep.
Researchers still aren’t sure how eating less minimizes the effects of fragmented sleep. But if you know you won’t be getting much sleep, consider eating lighter fare like soup or salad for dinner.
9. Experiencing insomnia? You should address it ASAP.
Taking steps to address insomnia as soon as it starts is more effective than waiting until it turns into a chronic problem, says a recent study published in the journal Sleep. The fix is actually easier than you would expect.
When adults who had been suffering from insomnia for less than three months underwent an hour of cognitive behavioral therapy, 60 percent reported improvements within one month, and 73 percent reported improvements within three months.
10. Sleeping too much is really unhealthy.
You know that logging eight hours of snooze time is essential for your health and well-being. But sleeping for longer than that appears to increase the risk for stroke by as much as 46 percent, found a University of Cambridge study of more than 10,000 people.
“We need to understand the reasons behind the link between sleep and stroke risk. What is happening in the body that causes this link? With further research, we may find that excessive sleep proves to be an early indicator of increased stroke risk, particularly among older people,” says lead study author Kay-Tee Shaw.
If you’re consistently sleeping for more than eight hours a night, it might be worth setting an alarm to prevent oversleeping.
11. Melatonin helps you sleep better in a noisy environment.
Whether you live in a bustling city or have roommates who love staying up late, taking melatonin can help.
When Chinese researchers studied the sleep quality of 40 healthy adults who were forced to snooze while listening to recordings of loud noises, those who took melatonin supplements slept better compared to those who used earplugs or eye masks. They felt less anxious in the morning, too.
Which just might make you wonder: What kind of sleep-related findings will we be in store for next year?
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A version of this piece originally appeared on amerisleep.com.
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