Better than a Sleep Potion: 9 Tips to Improve Your Sleep Right Now
Many of us yearn to get a good night's sleep yet often fail miserably to achieve this goal. There are so many reasons why this is. Modern life, with its unique stresses, distractions, and stimulations, plays a part. So too do our choices about what we eat and what we drink, and when. And for us Baby Boomers, the biological changes associated with andropause and menopause can definitely wreak havoc on the quality of our shuteye.
The good news? Improving our sleep is firmly within our realm of control. We can take steps right now to enjoy better sleep, night after night. And doing so will be extremely beneficial to our health. Poor sleep can:
- affect the health of our bodies, minds, and emotions
- increase our risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and infection
- blunt our ability to focus, pay attention, and solve problems
- lead to impulsivity, anger, sadness, and depression
So if your sleep is challenged and is compromising your performance and your health, then consider following these 9 tips to a better night's rest.
#1: Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants in the evening. Caffeinated beverages such as tea, coffee, and soda can affect your sleep if consumed within 6 hours of bedtime. If you crave a warm drink before bed, choose a cup of naturally uncaffeinated herbal tea instead; chamomile and valerian root teas are particularly good options, as they've long been used to induce restfulness and sound sleep. In addition, drinking more than 1–2 alcoholic beverages within 3 hours of sleep will act as a stimulant, making it more likely that you'll wake up throughout the night. And it isn't just drinks that can affect your sleep—desserts containing coffee flavor (like coffee-flavored ice cream) or chocolate (which naturally contains caffeine) will provoke wakefulness if eaten within 6 hours of bedtime.
#2: Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper. Sleep requires energy, and if your gastrointestinal tract is using that energy to digest your dinner, it will be difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. So skip the heavy supper and choose smaller portions of lighter fare instead, and make sure you finish eating at least 2 hours before bedtime. Make up for any calorie deficit by having a big, hearty breakfast and a large lunch.
#3: Balance your hydration. If you go to sleep dehydrated, you will wake up to drink, but if you drink too much water or herbal tea close to bedtime, your sleep will be disturbed by the need to relieve your bladder. Balance the two by drinking small amounts of water and herbal tea throughout the evening, and by making a trip to the bathroom before falling asleep.
#4: Turn off technology. Do you read e-books or watch TV before bed? You might want to rethink these harmful habits. The short-wavelength blue light that is emitted from the screens of our laptops, tablets, cell phones, and televisions—and yes, even those e-readers that claim to be easy on the eyes—has been proven to make us more wakeful at night, experience less REM sleep, and even feel sleepier the next morning. Be certain to turn off all devices and TVs at least 2 hours before your intended sleep time, and pick up a paperback instead.
#5: Turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. To facilitate great sleep, make sure your bedroom is as peaceful and comfortable as possible. It should be quiet, dark, well ventilated, and set to a comfortable temperature. If necessary, use a white-noise device or a simple box fan to cancel out any distracting noises that could wake you up. If your pillows aren't comfortable and your mattress is older than about 10 years, you might want to consider replacing them. Lastly, remove all technology devices such as televisions, clock radios, and cell phones from your bedroom. If the need exists, use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake you up.
#6: Prepare your body for sleep. Commit to a nighttime routine that prepares your body for sleep. Soak in a warm tub infused with lavender oil, and then stretch gently or do a relaxation exercise. Read a few pages of a book on a soothing topic. Empty your mind of thoughts and avoid stressful situations and encounters.
#7: Establish a consistent sleep routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at around the same time throughout the week. This will allow your internal clock to set itself, and you'll find it progressively easier to fall asleep at night and to wake up in the morning. On the weekend, resist the temptation to stay up late and sleep in—this is sure to make you sluggish and sleepy come Monday.
#8: Exercise in the morning. Physical activity can be stimulating, so it's best to avoid working out in the evening or at night. Instead, schedule your workouts in the morning to increase your daytime energy and efficiency. Enjoying a regular morning workout has another sleep-related benefit as well. Sticking to a long-term exercise routine has been proven to help people sleep more soundly at night and even to prevent insomnia, although it takes about 4 months of regular exercise to enjoy the benefit.
#9: Consider the effects of menopause and andropause. If your sleep problems still don't seem to improve no matter what you do, then menopause or andropause may be to blame. Shifting hormone levels can cause restless sleep in women and sleep apnea in men, not to mention insomnia in both genders. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to lessen these hormone-induced effects and improve your chances of a good night's rest.
Our nutrition expert Peta Cohen has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in addressing underlying metabolic changes that occur as a result of lifestyle choices and aging to prevent diseases, and deals with root causes of complex and chronic health issues. Her extensive clinical experience and research have led her to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's posts for the BoomSpot, she shows that great health starts with you and gives practical tips on how to improve it right now.