Sleep is something each one of us does on a nightly basis. Yet, when it comes to good night's rest, there are still a lot of questions that may elude or downright confuse us. Does what we consume (both literally and mentally) affect our sleep? How to sleep better in general?
With insomnia being a major problem for many Americans, researchers have been hard at work on a number of promising solutions to improve our sleep patterns. Building on their research, this article outlines five habits to help you orchestrate a good night’s rest.
1. Create an optimal sleeping environment
Take a look at your bedroom. Ideally, you want to sleep in a quiet and slightly cool environment – Harvard Medical School recommends temperature between 60 and 75°F. It’s also good to keep the room well ventilated and use shades or heavy curtains to block incoming light. You want to sleep in total darkness, because light leaks affect the production of melatonin and serotonin, the two hormones secreted by your body that promote a sound slumber.
2. Don’t take your problems to bed
Before bed, put your worries to rest. This is important, because when you’re stressed, your body will secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for increased alertness and sympathetic nervous activity. Bedtime is simply not the right time for analyzation – if you’re struggling to calm your racing mind, try to establish a soothing pre-sleep routine. This may involve meditation, light reading, sex, or warm bath. All of these activities will help you keep anxiety and stress in check.
3. Cut out caffeine
While it’s true that some studies have shown that caffeine may actually be a potent antioxidant, you shouldn’t forget that it’s still a stimulant that can interfere with your sleep. Researchers therefore recommend to avoid caffeine consumption for four to six hours before bedtime. Similar rules apply to alcohol – it may help you bring on sleep, but after several hours it acts as a stimulant – putting you in a greater risk for unwanted awakenings later in the night.
4. Get regular exercise
Aerobic exercise is one of the best prescriptions to battle chronic sleep problems. A study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity compared over 3,000 individuals and found that people who exercise regularly have significantly better sleep quality and report being less tired throughout the day.
However, proper timing is essential – make sure you exercise in the morning or afternoon, not at night, as exercising too late in the day can stimulate the body and prevent you from falling asleep.
5. Keep a regular schedule
Everyone has an internal clock that maintains a healthy sleep-wake cycle, but over time – due to stress and inflexible schedules – our circadian rhythms may get out of whack. There’s only one way out of this never-ending jet lag – train yourself to sleep and rise at around the same time each day, including weekends. As a result, your body will learn to expect sleep at certain time night after night, allowing you to reap the rewards in the form of a better quality and consistent sleep.
According to a report published by the medical journal The Lancet, about 25 percent of Americans are unhappy with the quality of their sleep. What’s even worse, the review also concludes that one in ten adults suffer from a full-fledged insomnia, putting them at an increased risk for a wide range of chronic diseases, including diabetes, depression and heart disease. But getting a good night’s rest doesn’t have to be complicated. To the contrary, there’s a lot you can do to improve the state of your sleep naturally – and the five tips outlined in this article are a great way to get started.