Health Resolution: Here's How to Get Better Sleep in 2014

3 years ago

2014 is going to be the year of sleep. As more research emerges tying a plethora of health problems to our perpetual lack of sleep, more gadgets come out that help us to sleep better knowing that it adds to our overall health.  According to a recent article in the Atlantic on sleep deprivation, most people probably need a lot more sleep than they're actually getting.

Dr. Steven Feinsilver is a pulmonologist and sleep specialist who said that humans need, on average, seven and one quarter hours of sleep to stay healthy. “Now clearly like all biological things there are probably people who feel great on five hours, and they’re really lucky, and some people who need nine hours, and they’re not so lucky,” Feinsilver said. “Whether you can train that to change, I don’t know.”

So rounding up to a solid eight hours to give you buffer room for falling asleep or waking slowly in the morning, how are you going to ensure that you get that full amount of sleep each night?  Make it your resolution this January to commit to working on sleep for the next six months.  With such far-reaching effects, it may do more for your health than any other small change you may make in exercise or eating.

Image: Massimo Peruffo via Flickr

Here are some tips to get you better sleep:

  • Set a routine.  Just like planning for exercise or eating meals at the same time of day, you need to schedule in your sleep.  You know when you need to wake up, so set your bedtime 8 hours prior to that time, and stick to it.
  • Do a quiet activity before bed.  Checking your email, writing a blog post, or playing Candy Crush doesn't tell your brain that it's time for bed.  They tell your brain to keep thinking.  Wind down with the same activity for the last half hour before sleep and make sure it isn't something that taxes your brain.  By keeping it consistent, it will send a message to your body that your bedtime routine has begun.
  • Wear something comfortable.  Ever notice that when you get a new gadget, you want to use it all day long?  Turn your attention toward sleep by getting yourself a warm blanket or new pyjamas -- anything that will help you to be comfortable while in bed.  You'll start looking forward to getting into bed at night.
  • Skip the caffeine.  I'm someone who feels a big slump late in the day.  Knowing that, I consume that boost of caffeine before I need it -- at least two hours before around one o'clock -- so I have the energy I need for driving the afternoon carpool but it doesn't affect my sleep at night.  Caffeine can affect your sleep when consumed even six hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise six hours before bed.  Never exercise at the very end of the day, but the optimal time to benefit sleep-wise from exercise is to workout for 20 or 30 minutes six hours before bed.  If your bedtime is 10 pm, your optimal workout time is 4 pm.  Exercise "raises your body temperature above normal a few hours before bed, allowing it to start falling just as you're getting ready for bed. This decrease in body temperature appears to be a trigger that helps ease you into sleep." 
  • Be careful about what you eat before bed.  Some foods help you drift off into sleep and others interrupt your restfulness.  Make sure you're eating the right foods before bed.  Health magazine has a good list of foods to consume or avoid.  Cheeries top the list in helping you get sleep.  Worst on the list?  That bacon cheeseburger.
  • Keep a sleep journal.  Just as you keep track of your exercise or what you eat, keep track of your sleep.  Write down the foods you ate, when you exercised, activities before bed, and how many hours of sleep you get each night so you can look for patterns.

Are you making the commitment to get more sleep in 2014?  Whose ready to make a resolution with me for better sleep?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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