Seven to nine hours of quality shuteye per evening is the prescription for adults. But most of us are getting 20% less sleep than our own parents’ generation. That’s less than ideal, because getting enough quality sleep is essential for health, quality of life and safety. See, during sleep, your body works tirelessly to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. For all that good stuff to happen, we need to stop getting in its way. Here are 10 tried, tested and/or scientifically supported tactics to get some top-quality slumber tonight. And to make the most of every day, start checking off these 100 Ways to Live to 100!
Get the right gear
If you’re lucky enough to still be kicking around at the age of 80, you’ll have chalked up to 30 years of bedtime. That’s quite a time investment. One of the best ways to get a return on that investment is to figure out which sleeping posture you find most restorative, then build your bed around it. Start by buying the right mattress and pillow to mitigate any areas of discomfort. If you sleep on your side, putting a pillow between your legs will minimize twisting strain on your lower back, while hip pain can be lessened by using a mattress topper to help soften and contour your body.
Rise and shine
Your chances of getting a phenomenal night’s sleep can be vastly improved by what you do first thing in the morning. Getting a good night’s rest is all about syncing your circadian cycle to your schedule. For that to happen, your body needs to be exposed to light during the day. Because most of us spend the majority of our waking hours indoors, natural light exposure is pretty minimal. Heading outside before work can therefore help set you up for bedtime success. Your best bet is to lace up your sneakers for a quick walk around the block within a half-hour of waking up. If you aren’t a morning person, this can seem like a tall order, but you’ll thank yourself 16 hours in the future. Capitalize on your newly rested self with these 25 Ways to Look Your Best Now!
Keep a sleep diary
What isn’t measured cannot be improved upon. That applies to sleep too. Pay attention to the times you feel and perform at your best, when you naturally wake without an alarm clock, and when you start to feel sleepy in the evenings. Add this info to a sleep diary. It will tell you about your “chronotype,” which will allow you to set healthy sleep goals that work with your natural rhythms. A free online assessment at the Center for Environmental Therapeutics can help you find your type and provide related advice.
Call time on the coffee pot
This really shouldn’t be a newsflash, but we’ll say it anyway. Drinking caffeine too late in the day can disrupt your sleep. “Caffeine can stimulate the central nervous system several hours after consuming it,” say The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT. “If you’re at all sensitive to it, you will probably lie awake.” Caffeine’s stimulating effects can last anywhere from 8 to 14 hours. It’s worth remembering when you’re thinking about that last cuppa joe. Try putting 8 hours between your early-afternoon cup and your head hitting the pillow. If your sleep experience changes, noting it in your sleep diary will help. Make sure your dinner is rich in these 20 Amazing Healing Foods!
Tryp your face off
Found in foods like turkey, peanut butter and bananas, tryptophan converts to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can help boost feelings of calm and relaxation. To reap the benefits, enjoy some roasted turkey, a complex carbohydrate and a vegetable for your main meal, and smear a tablespoon of peanut butter on half a banana as a healthy dessert. The tryptophan will help you nod off, while the combination of complex carbs and protein banishes midnight snack attacks that may wake you mid-slumber.
Don’t feel blue, block blue
Binge-watching Netflix before bed could cause you to binge-watch the inside of your eyelids all night. According to recent research by the National Academy of Sciences, the blue light emitted from electronic devices like your computer, iPad or LED television can impair the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which negatively affects sleep quality. If you can’t kick your late-night tech habit altogether, download a free program called F.lux. Throughout the day, the software gradually changes the light emissions from electronic devices from blue to warm red, a hue that minimizes blue light’s stimulating effects. Unfortunately, it can’t do the same for your television, so you’ll just have to flip that off.
Mindfully pre-game for sleepytime
Are you a creature of habit? You ought to be. By doing the same thing every night for at least an hour before bedtime, you program sleep triggers. These triggers could include writing in your sleep diary, having a cottage cheese snack or doing anything else on this list. Over time, your brain will begin to associate those things with bedtime and will fast-track you into slumber. Prep all day for a restful sleep with these 10 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure!
Take a hot shower
One of those habits ought to be taking a steamy bath or shower. A UCLA study of some of the world’s last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes noted that temperature drops were an important sleep cue for our paleolithic forebears. We no longer sleep under the stars that much, but you can recreate a sunset-like temperature drop by bathing. It might make you fall asleep faster and make that shuteye deeper.
Learn that there’s no such thing as too dark
Blackout curtains? An eye mask? Isn’t blocking light what eyelids are for? Sure, but even still, light can be detected through our eyelids, and the brain has a hard time producing melatonin if it’s confused between night and day. Exposure to nighttime light doesn’t just interrupt your chances for a great night’s sleep, it may also result in weight gain, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Study subjects who slept in the darkest rooms were 21 percent less likely to be obese than those sleeping in the lightest rooms.
There’s nothing more frustrating than looking at the clock all night and cursing yourself for not being able to drift off at 1am, 2am, 3am… Take comfort that merely relaxing your mind and body will help rejuvenate you in lieu of honest-to-goodness sleep. Once you’re not so agitated about your inability to fall asleep, it’ll come more naturally. If, however, you’re not getting anywhere after chilling out for 20 minutes, get out of bed, leave the bedroom and do something quiet and unstimulating. Try watching C-SPAN — or a game of cricket, perhaps. Or relax yourself with some of these 25 Ways to be Happier Now!