As a new year begins, many of us set forth on the resolutions we create for ourselves in the upcoming year. On most people's list, you're going to find some variation of "get fit" or "lose weight" or "be less stressed." Becoming healthier is a common goal that we have as humans in order to become the best version of ourselves.
As someone who has experienced the ebbs and flows of living a healthy lifestyle, one thing is for sure...sleep cannot be overlooked. It plays a key role in your health, and insufficient sleep has even been linked to an increased risk of obesity in children and adults, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You can eat the right foods, drink plenty of water, and exercise 5 times a week, but if your body is not getting proper sleep, your physical and mental health can suffer greatly.
Here are 12 ways to help you get a better night's sleep and boost your overall health and wellness.
1. Have a relaxing pre-sleep routine.
Consider having a bedtime ritual to help put you in a state of relaxation. Adopting techniques such as meditation, reading a book, taking a hot bath, or even just listening to relaxing music in the hours prior to bed have been shown to improve quality of sleep. Try various strategies to discover what works best for you.
2. Optimize your bedroom environment.
Turn your bedroom into a more relaxing and balanced environment by being intentional about it. Take control of key components, such as room temperature, furniture arrangement, noise and lighting. All of these elements can play a role in getting a good night's sleep.
When arranging furniture in your bedroom, keep some feng shui principles in mind to help you find the right balance and optimize your sleep (click here for a video on feng shui tips). As for noise issues, consider using one of the many 'sleep apps' that are available for smartphones. Rain, thunderstorms, ocean waves and many more calming sounds can be found on a variety of apps out there for both Android and Apple smartphones.
I used to live in a condo that was located directly below the flight path for our city's airport, so plane noise was prevalent. To counter this, I actually purchased a white noise machine that I would turn on at bedtime to block out the external sounds of city living. I no longer live in that condo, but I now find that I can't sleep without my noise machine...and have even packed it in my suitcase when vacationing.
3. Increase your exposure to bright light during the daytime.
Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. It functions on a 24-hour cycle, affecting your entire body by relying on sunlight or bright light to help you maintain energy during the daytime, and likewise, telling your body when it's time to rest and recharge at night. Getting a good amount of daily light exposure will most likely help you even if you typically get average sleep.
4. Reduce your exposure to blue light during the evening.
While it is suggested that you get plenty of light exposure during the day, it is equally recommended to cut back on nighttime exposure to light...in particular, blue light...which is what popular electronic devices such as computers and cell phones emit. Your body's circadian rhythm will trick your brain into thinking that it is still daytime, and may affect how quickly you are able to fall asleep. The production of melatonin, a hormone that our body's produce naturally to help our sleep/wake cycle, may also suffer, and prevent you from getting a relaxing deep sleep.
To minimize blue light exposure during the evening, you can wear specialized glasses that are designed to block blue light. I've seen people wear sunglasses when working on their computers at night, but there are actually some stylish inexpensive glasses that you can find nowadays. I purchased a pair of KLIM Optics Blue Light Blocking Glasses from Amazon awhile back and I love them for computer work at night. You can also download an app, such as f.lux, to block blue light on your laptop or computer. Based on the time of day, it will automatically apply a filter on your screen to provide the best brightness for you. Likewise, you can find similar apps for smartphones.
Many of us decompress from a long day by watching tv at night, so this one might be tough for a lot of people, but turning off the tv at least two hours before bedtime can have a significant affect on your sleep patterns. You just have to be willing to do it.
5. Take short, regular daytime naps if needed.
Who doesn't love a daytime nap? Laying down for a bit and recharging the biological batteries can be very beneficial, however, if the nap is too long or taken at an irregular time, it can have the opposite affect.
Studies have shown that napping for 10-20 minutes (a power nap) during the day can do wonders for brain function, but longer naps can lead to grogginess. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, the ideal time to take that brief power nap is between 1pm and 4pm. Napping any later than that could negatively impact sleep quality at night.
6. Stay away from caffeine late in the day.
Caffeine can stimulate your nervous system, so when consumed late in the day, it may affect how your body relaxes later at night. If you already have a tough time falling asleep or are sensitive to caffeine and you can't shake that urge for a cup of coffee or can of soda in the afternoon, go with the decaffeinated stuff.
7. Reduce alcohol consumption.
Having a drink or two to wind down after a long day can actually impact how you sleep at night. Consuming alcohol has been shown to magnify the symptoms of issues like sleep apnea, snoring and disrupted sleep cycles.
Once again, your body's nighttime melatonin and HGH (human growth hormone) production may also be affected. A study found that alcohol consumption at night lowered the natural nighttime spikes in HGH, which plays a vital role in your circadian rhythm and has many other key functions in the body.
8. Exercise regularly.
Exercise not only boosts our general health, it can enhance all aspects of our sleep as well. Studies have shown that in people with insomnia, having an exercise regimen reduced anxiety and the time it took to fall asleep, while also increasing total sleep time.
However, much like caffeine, exercise does provide a stimulating effect and boosts adrenaline, so a workout in the evening hours may actually hinder sleep in some people.
9. Take a Melatonin supplement.
As we've seen above, certain factors like alcohol consumption and blue light exposure, can reduce melatonin production. To help your body maintain sufficient levels of this crucial hormone, you can also take it in a supplement form if you are having trouble falling asleep, or not getting quality sleep. Often used to treat insomnia, melatonin supplements can help you fall asleep faster, while having very little in the way of side effects.
Studies have shown that just 2 mg of melatonin prior to bedtime can lead to better quality of sleep and provide a boost to energy levels the following day. A prescription is needed for melatonin in some countries, but it is widely available in stores or online in many countries, including the United States. Typical melatonin supplements will contain 5 mg per serving, which should only be taken before going to bed.
You should always check with your medical professional prior to adding a melatonin supplement to your regimen.
10. Invest in a comfortable bed.
While not everyone wants to (or can) shell out thousands of dollars for a new bed, it's important to reflect on how much time we actually spend in our beds. It's estimated that the average person spends nearly a third of their life IN THEIR BED. It's crazy when you think of it that way, but it stresses the importance of having quality bedding to sleep on.
Beds help our bodies and our brains rest and repair from the rigors of the day. A proper mattress can help reduce aches and pains, and enhance sleep quality...while old, or poor quality mattresses can cause more aches and pains, and diminish the quality of your sleep.
It's different strokes for different folks when it comes to bedding. Everyone has their own preference as to what is comfortable for them, but if you haven't upgraded your bedding in the past 10 years, it may be something to look into. One of the big industries right now is the online mattress industry, with companies like Casper, Purple and Tuft & Needle competing to provide high-quality mattresses for fairly reasonable prices, delivered right to your door. No more strapping a mattress and box spring to the roof of your car!
11. Avoid late-night eating.
If you're a late-night snacker, or a late dinner dasher, just know that these habits may be negatively impacting your sleep and your body's ability to naturally release hormones like HGH and melatonin.
Certainly WHAT you're munching on matters as well. For instance, high-carbohydrate meals eaten several hours prior to bedtime can actually help you fall asleep faster, but sugary foods and drinks are not going to do you any favors. Even drinking too much water in the evening and right before bed is not recommended...unless you a like a bathroom trip or two during the night.
12. Keep a steady sleep schedule.
If you struggle with getting a good night's rest, one of the most important strategies you should work on is developing a consistent sleep/wake cycle. Your body's circadian rhythm naturally aligns itself with sunrise and sunset, so maintaining a pattern of similar times that you are going to bed and waking up in the morning can work wonders for your long-term sleep quality.
Of course, there are other strategies that people use to help them good a good night's rest, but these are just 12 of the one's that I have found to work the best for me. If you have a suggestion that I did not mention, please leave it in the comments below. Happy sleeping!