Sleep is one of the most discussed topics of the morning–every morning. Phrases like, “I tossed and turned all night, “I just couldn’t shut down my brain and get to sleep,” or “I woke up at three and couldn’t get back to sleep” are the complaints of millions every day. Somewhere between infancy and adulthood, we lose the ability to get a long restful sleep.
Sleep is elusive, and continued lack of sleep makes you irritable, angry, and prone to rants and rages. There are, however, a few things that you can do during the day to ward off the inability to move into a more restful pattern as you approach the time for sleep. Take a look at these effective strategies on how you can improve your sleep–all based upon research–because incorporating them into your daily routine may solve your problems!
Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that, in general, the higher a person’s caloric intake, the more likely that person experienced sleep problems. The same study pointed to indicators that intake of healthier fats tended to have a positive impact on sleep.
A University of Minnesota study looked at the relationship between “unhealthy” fat intake and sleep. The conclusions were this: unhealthy animal fats reduce the levels of orexin–a brain chemical that regulates sleep habits. Lower levels of orexin result in restless and difficult sleep at night, but also promote unwanted sleep needs during daytime hours. Just leave your favorite pizza snacks for lunch if you want to fall asleep faster.
Healthier food choices seem to be the mantra of every health and fitness expert, author, and all sorts of TV personalities. Forget the hype, and believe in actual research studies that relate to diet and sleep.
Studies at the Harvard School of Medicine have demonstrated that healthy fats (Omega-3’s, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated oils) improve sleep quality because the change from unhealthy to healthy fats reduces belly fat. Too much belly fat tends to obstruct airways during sleep, and the result is sleep interruptions throughout the night. Healthy fats, such as those contained in vegetable and nut oils or fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and sardines), reduce belly fat and promote better sleep.
Additional studies indicate that thiamine (vitamin B1) and magnesium deficiencies correlate with sleep disorders. A thiamine deficiency causes magnesium deficiency, and therein lays the problem. A University of Maryland Medical Center study recently published its findings on the effects of low magnesium levels in the body, and one of the predominate negative consequences was sleep disorders. Most of us do not get enough magnesium in our diets (good sources are whole grains, nuts and green leafy veggies), so if your diet lacks these, a magnesium and a B1 supplement might be warranted, if you want to reduce sleep issues.
Snoring does not just affect your partner. It disrupts your sleep as well. A large number of snorers claim that they even wake themselves up with their own snoring. Simple solutions might involve elevating your head or using breathing strips that are sold over the counter. If snoring continues to be an issue, however, getting a sleeping device may be in order.
This situation is usually caused by a lack of comfort. Solutions may include changing out the fiber fill type of your pillows, buying a new mattress, or changing the room temperature. If you continue to toss and turn, however, it is best to just get up and do one of the following: read, listen to quiet music, or try some relaxation techniques.
Why? Because this increases your serotonin levels and serotonin produces more melatonin, which is a sleep enhancement. Many psychiatrists now prescribe melatonin supplements for patients with ADD and ADHD, because studies have all shown that it promotes restful sleep. If you cannot get at least 30 minutes of direct sunlight each day, take a melatonin supplement a couple hours before you go to bed.
A University of Oregon Medical School study came to clear conclusions about the relationship between exercise and restful sleep, and it did not seem to matter if those minutes were done in long or short intervals. Thus, someone who took a 30-minute brisk walk fewer times in a week versus someone who took 15-minute brisk walks more times in a week did not make a difference. Both reported better sleep.
It is important to note that if you pick up the pace of walking that you do on a daily basis, at work, at home, or with your dog, you will see those exercise minutes add up. And housecleaning chores count as well, as long as they are done “briskly.”
Love reading from your iPad in bed and responding to a few late emails? That may be one of the major reasons why you have troubles sleeping. The blue light from your device’s screen has a shorter wave length and reduces melatonin levels in our bodies, thus making it harder to relax and fall asleep.
Try installing f.lux–a simple software that makes your device’s display change, based upon the time of day or night, and will reduce the blue light as you move into night-time hours. As it is automatic, you don’t have to remember to activate anything! Another option is to get amber-lensed glasses, which block blue light emissions.
Evenings should be your prime time for relaxing. Ditch the artificial lights in favor of candles. Not only will it make your dinner insanely romantic, but will let you unwind faster as the candles emit no blue light and watching the tiny flames puts you in a zen-like relaxed state.
It will contribute to good sleep. The ritual gives signals to your body that it is time for rest, and your body and brain will respond better to the transition from activity to rest. Perhaps you watch the news, turn off the TV, take your dog for a short walk, get into your jammies, immerse your face in cold water for 30 seconds (yes, this does help!), brush your teeth, and climb into bed with a book. The routine sends signals to your brain which in turn sends signals to your body that it is time for rest.
Research conducted at the University of Southampton in England and at Wesleyan University in Connecticut showed that adults who had the scent from lavender oil present as they slept experienced better, more restful sleep. These researchers found that the scent increases “slow-wave” sleep–the deep sleep that slows heart rate and relaxes muscles. Place several drops on a tissue and place it next to your pillow when you retire.
All of the stressors and unresolved problems of the day creep into the silence of nighttime, and steal needed rest. If you have a “Type A” personality, your days are filled with frenetic activity. If that activity translates into further frenetic brain activity at night, you are in trouble.
One really effective method of dealing with this is to keep a notepad next to the bed. Sit up and write down the issues that are nagging at you; note possible solutions or things that you will do tomorrow to resolve these issues. Once they are on paper, they tend to be removed from your thoughts and you can sleep better.
A lot of people find that a sound machine with rain, oceans waves, etc., will induce the calm that is needed for sleep. Having trouble finding what sounds are your sweet spot for calming down? There’s an app called Relax Melodies that will let you browse through a huge gallery of pleasant sounds and help you mix your own tunes!
If a full emersion into a cool bath (like 60 degrees cool)–which is considered the most effective long-term strategies for improving sleep and weight loss–doesn’t appeal to you, start with sitting with ice packs on the front and back of your neck for about 30 minutes in the evening.
Alternatively, you can make a series of dips with your face into a bowl of cold water (50 degrees) and hold it there for as long as you can (up to 30 seconds is more than fine!). This procedure will not only improve your sleeping patterns, but also reduce stress as your body slows its metabolism in order to spare vital organs. In turn, it reduces tension and you stop worrying about all the things that bother you and your mind clears out.
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