Bank a Better Night of Sleep

With our busy lives, getting more or better sleep may seem like a luxury—a to-do that is expendable when other priorities mount up. But consider this: If you regularly stagger out of bed in the morning feeling like you could rest another few hours, you are at greater risk for developing obesity, diabetes, depression, heart problems and other the serious health issues caused by lack of sleep. That’s a lot more concerning than just feeling crabby or sluggish. Sleep is a true health necessity.

Though it might seem like you have no control over how much and how well you rest, there are some simple things you can do to get a better night’s sleep.

  • Turn the lights off. When you get into bed at night, avoid using anything that emits a glow, such as a computer, tablet, smartphone or TV. While you may think you’re winding down by watching a movie or checking your email, a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reports that exposure to artificial light before bedtime significantly suppresses levels of melatonin (the natural hormone that helps regulate our sleep/wake cycles), impairing the body’s ability to fall asleep at night. In addition, the light emitted by the face of your clock can suppress melatonin production especially if it is white, green or blue.
  • Get some exercise. Research has shown that exercising at a moderate intensity for 150 minutes or more a week improves sleep quality. While scientists don’t understand exactly why, they suspect a variety of factors are at work, including the post-workout release of a neuropeptide in the brain called orexin, which plays a central role in our sleep-wake cycles. You may not want to exercise in the three hours before bedtime; body temperature is related to nodding off, and some of us need more time to completely cool down. Consider early morning, midday or late afternoon trips to the gym.
  • Cut out caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system within about 15 to 45 minutes of entering the bloodstream—a big reason why most people drink it. What you may not know is that, five to seven hours after consumption, about half of the caffeine you’ve consumed is still there, and some people are more impacted by this amount than others. Avoid caffeinated beverages and foods as bedtime draws closer, and ideally after noon, and remember that decaf contains some caffeine, too.

More: How Much is Too Much Caffeine?

  • Make your room cooler. The right room temperature can affect how quickly you fall asleep. A study out of France found that we may actually sleep better in cooler settings, between 60 and 68 degrees. Use a fan, open window or air conditioner to get things just right in your bedroom. You can amplify this effect by activating “temperature down regulation.” Translation: Take a lukewarm or cool shower or bath before hitting the sack—your body’s temperature will drop more quickly when exposed to your cool bedroom.
  • Drown out distraction. It’s no surprise that your neighbor’s blaring music can keep you awake, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, noises at levels as low as 40 decibels can too—that’s as seemingly insignificant as a leaky faucet. You may want to consider investing in a white noise machine, which makes a static or wind-like sound that can help overpower the quietest and loudest disturbances. Though still audible, the constant, non-stimulating sound will actually lull you.
  • Distract yourself. Focusing on the clock and how many sleepless minutes have ticked by can make it even harder to fall asleep. It may seem counterintuitive, but get out of bed if you’re still awake after 20 minutes of tossing and turning. Move to another room where, in dim light, you can read, work on a crossword puzzle or listen to a book on tape to help fall asleep. Although it may be tempting to unwind with a gadget or TV show, avoid the computer, cell phone and other devices that give off artificial light.
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