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Want to Improve Your Quality of Sleep? Avoid These 8 Things Before Bed

Want to Improve Your Quality of Sleep? Avoid These 8 Things Before Bed

Do you wake up feeling rested and ready to tackle the day, or groggy and desperate for a cup of coffee to help you pry your eyes open? The truth is that most of us aren’t getting the right amount of sleep each night, and one survey found that 58% of workers feel they don’t sleep enough, and only 16% are getting the recommended eight hours of sleep each night.[1]

Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to everything from obesity to cardiovascular disease, but even a low level of sleep deprivation can impact cognitive function and will almost certainly affect your performance at work, and eventually maybe even your career.[2]

So what can you do to ensure that your nights of rest are actually restful?

Most of us know better than to consume caffeine or sugar late at night, but there are likely plenty of other things you do regularly that are messing with your quality of sleep. With this in mind, here are eight things you should try to avoid at all costs before bedtime.

1. Smoking or drinking alcohol

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    Obviously you’re aware that smoking and drinking alcohol aren’t the healthiest of habits to begin with, but smoking or drinking right before going to bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep, and also cause you to wake up more frequently throughout the night.

    Nicotine is a stimulant, so smoking just before bed will leave you feeling wired, and while alcohol may initially cause you to feel drowsy, it also disrupts your restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep,[3] leaving you feeling groggy and unable to concentrate throughout the day.

    2. Heavy meals

      In general, it’s best to avoid eating too close to your bedtime, as a full stomach will make it harder to fall asleep. Lying down right after you’ve eaten can also cause heartburn and indigestion, which obviously doesn’t contribute to a good night’s sleep.

      If your schedule makes it impossible to eat at least three hours before your bedtime, try to eat your heavier meals for lunch and then eat lighter meals that are easier to digest at the end of the day, such as salads, or fruit and yogurt.

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      3. Technology in bed

        Research shows[4] that the blue and white light given off by the screens of our favorite devices prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, which is the hormone that tells your body when it’s time to sleep.

        With this in mind, it’s best to avoid reading on your smartphone or laptop before going to sleep, and if you usually watch TV or binge on Netflix in the evening, try to give yourself at least one hour of screen-free time before you climb into bed each night.

        4. Hot baths

        Hot baths can certainly be relaxing, but taking one too close to your bedtime can also prevent you from falling asleep. This is because your body temperature naturally drops a bit in preparation for sleep, so when you take a hot bath, your body needs more time to cool down before you feel sleepy.

        If you like taking hot baths right before bed, you can avoid this problem by taking a cold rinse off right after your bath to bring your core temperature down again.

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        5. Strenuous exercise

          Exercising during the day can lead to more restful nights, but if you’re working out too close to your bedtime you might actually be sabotaging your sleep. Just like hot baths, strenuous exercise causes your core body temperature to rise. It also leads to increased brain activity and releases adrenaline, which is not ideal when you’re trying to sleep.

          If you’re not a morning person, try to do your workout at least three hours before you go to sleep, and when this isn’t possible, try a less strenuous form of exercise, such as swimming or yoga.

          6. Work related activities

            Checking your email or taking work calls right before you go to sleep not only exposes you to the melatonin-suppressing light of your phone’s screen, but also prevents you from ever really relaxing.

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            One study even found that people who used their smartphones for work purposes at night were less productive and had difficulty focusing the next day.[5] With this in mind, it’s important to set some clear boundaries and make a conscious effort to unplug and relax once you finish work for the day.

            7. Intense conversations

            Arguments tend to elevate cortisol and other stress hormones, which is really the last thing you want just before bed. While it’s not always possible to avoid arguments and stressful conversations entirely, try to hash things out earlier on in the day rather than leaving frustrations to simmer until bedtime.

            If you know you have an important decision to make, or need to talk something through with a friend or partner, it’s better to agree on a time to discuss the issue the following day when you’ll be free to reflect and process things.

            8. Not following a routine

              Humans are creatures of habit, and if you’re constantly going to bed at a different time, it will be difficult for your brain to slow down and fall asleep. With this in mind, try to develop your own little nighttime ritual that starts about an hour before you plan to go to sleep and helps you relax and wind down.

              This could include anything from laying out your clothes for the next day, to stretching and meditating, to reading or journaling, which has been shown[6] to relieve stress and anxiety, and even lower symptoms of depression.

              Featured photo credit: Hernan Sanchez via unsplash.com

              Reference

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              Marianne Stenger

              Writer, Open Colleges

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              Published on July 7, 2020

              Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

              Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

              Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

              Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

              The Skinny on Mental Workouts

              Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

              Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

              1. Improved Memory

              After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

              2. Reduced Stress Levels

              Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

              3. Improved Work Performance

              Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

              4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

              As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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              Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

              Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

              The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

              1. Brainstorming

              One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

              If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

              2. Dancing

              Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

              Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

              3. Learning a New Language

              Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

              With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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              4. Developing a Hobby

              Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

              If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

              For example:

              • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
              • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
              • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
              • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

              Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

              5. Board Games

              Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

              Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

              6. Card Games

              Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

              A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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              7. Puzzles

              Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

              Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

              8. Playing Music

              Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

              Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

              What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

              9. Meditating

              Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

              Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

              • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
              • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
              • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
              • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
              • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
              • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

              10. Deep Conversation

              There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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              Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

              11. Cooking

              When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

              If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

              12. Mentorship

              Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

              Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

              Final Thoughts

              Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

              To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

              More Tips for Training Your Brain

              Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

              Reference

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