10 Tips to Get the Best Sleep Ever
By Sarah Stevenson
When is the last time you had a good night’s sleep? Most of us have a million things to do every day and to get them all done, something’s got to give. So why not skimp on downtime? After all, there’s nothing wrong with shortening your snooze when you’re on the go, right?
Think again. According to a new study in the journal Science Transitional Medicine, adults who limit sleep to roughly 5 hours a night greatly increase their risk of obesity and diabetes(1). And for those of you trying to blast P90X® or INSANITY®, even more downtime might be in order. A recent study from Stanford University’s Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory reported that athletes heighten their performance levels after a solid 10 hours in bed(2).
But before you stop reading and head for the sheets, keep in mind that 6 to 8 hours of good rest should be enough for most of us. Unfortunately, even if you’re sleeping enough, it’s likely, given the pace of modern society, that you’re not sleeping particularly well, so let’s take a look at your sleeping habits and conditions. With a few small changes, you could dramatically improve your quality of life.
- Exercise. Exercise won’t just help you get fit, it’ll help you sleep better. When you exercise, you increase your internal body temperature. According to Professor Jim Horne, who runs the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, the post-workout cooling down process makes you sleepier, given that right before sleep, your body expels heat to help you shut down. Interestingly, exercising outside in the cold isn’t as beneficial because it’s a zero-sum gain, heat-wise(3).
- Quiet the Noise. If you live only a thin wall away from neighbors (or a partner who snores!), excess noise is keeping you from getting quality rest. A pair of $3 drug store earplugs can eliminate outside and inside noise and help you feel more rested in the morning.
- Get Great Lighting. According to Dr. Phyllis C. Zee, associate director at the Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology, Northwestern University School of Medicine, light has an enormous effect on circadian rhythms—your body’s daily physiological clock(4). Too much exposure to light before bed can keep your body from entering a restful state and may prevent you from remaining asleep for long enough. Keep lights dim at night and don’t sleep with the light on. You may even consider wearing an eye mask as one Chinese study found that earplugs and eye masks worn during sleep increases the levels of melatonin produced in the body(5). Or, you could invest in blackout curtains. These curtains are specifically designed to reduce noise by up to 40%, block out 99% of light, and help you save up to 25% on home heating and cooling costs.
- Take a Bath. As is also the case with exercise, once you leave the bath your internal temperature cools down, giving your body the hint that it’s time to catch some ZZZs. Furthermore, hot water relieves tension and the pressure that gravity places on the joints and muscles.
- Ban the Electronics. You may love watching Netflix® in your boxers, but according to The National Sleep Foundation, electronics are a no-go in the bedroom. Just like overhead lighting, the glow of your iPad®, laptop, or the TV messes with your circadian rhythms. Your best bet is to teach your brain to associate your bed with sleep . . . and maybe sex, but that’s a topic for a different article.
- Time Your Caffeine. Caffeinated beverages can hinder sleep for up to 6 hours after you drink them(6). On the other hand, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan increase your serotonin levels and serve as a natural sedative(7). Foods high in tryptophan include red meat, dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, soybeans, tuna, shellfish, and turkey. So gobble them up if you want to get totally “trypt” out.
- Have a Drink. Try this ancient ayurvedic recipe: warm milk, a pinch of cinnamon, and a pinch of cardamom(8). Milk contains tryptophan, which, as stated earlier in this article, is a great sleep aid. This is why so many folk remedies include warm milk. Try it out, you will feel like a sleep bug snug in a rug.
- Set a Bedtime. Researchers from Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas conducted a study on college students with inconsistent weekend sleeping habits(9). Subjects who pulled all-nighters on Saturday or Sunday found it difficult to sleep the rest of the week. Your brain needs consistency. You create patterns of sleep just like you acquire all of your good and bad habits. In fact, a consistent bedtime can help you train your brain to be its own alarm clock.
- Fall for Soft Rock. Save Megadeth for getting ready in the morning and spin Mumford & Sons at night instead. The calmer music, the better. Researchers from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio, conducted a study on older individuals listening to soft, calm music before bed and found that it significantly improved their quality of sleep(10).
- Use aromatherapy. Herbs like lavender, chamomile, bergamot, and sandalwood have been used for centuries to calm the central nervous system, bring on a sense of relaxation, and help to induce sleep(11). Place scented candles in your bedroom, ask your partner to massage you with lavender oil before bed, or take a warm bath with any of these herbs at night to put yourself in the mood for sleep.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2012, July 1). Sleep deprivation effect on the immune system mirrors physical stress. ScienceDaily.
- The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. Cheri D. Mah, Kenneth E. Mah, Eric J. Kezirian, William C. Dement Sleep. 2011 July 1; 34(7): 943–950
- Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University: http://www.lboro.ac.uk
- Phyllis C. Zee, Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders ACCP Sleep Med Brd Rev 2009 4:63-76 Lee IS, Lee GJ.
- Effects of earplugs and eye masks on nocturnal sleep, melatonin and cortisol in a simulated intensive care unit environment. Rong-fang Hu, Xiao-ying Jiang, Yi-ming Zeng, Xiao-yang Chen, You-hua Zhang, Critical Care. 2010 14:R66.
- Sleep homeostasis: a role for adenosine in humans? Landolt HP. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Jun 1; 75(11): 2070-9. Epub 2008 Mar 4
- Simon N. Young, Marco Leyton. The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction: Insight from altered tryptophan levels. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, Volume 71, Issue 4, April 2002, Pages 857–865
- Chopra, Ananda S. (2003). “Ayurveda”. In Selin, Helaine. Medicine Across Cultures: History and Practice of medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Pp. 75-83. ISBN 1-4020-1166-0
- Sleep Patterns and Predictors of Disturbed Sleep in a Large Population of College Students. Hannah G. Lund, Brian D. Reider, Annie B. Whiting, J. Roxanne Prichard Journal of Adolescent Health February 2010 (Vol. 46, Issue 2, Pages 124-132)
- Lai, H.-L. and Good, M. (2005), Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49: 234–244.
- A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula augustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. Lewith GT, Godfrey AD, Prescott P. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Aug; 11(4):631-7.