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How to Have Quality Sleep Effortlessly

How to Have Quality Sleep Effortlessly

Let’s get it out of the way: “sleeping effortlessly” probably sounds ridiculous to you. If you have a noisy neighbour or you are grappling with worries or plans, falling asleep can, in fact, feel like it requires a great deal of effort. Even things such as a change of season, or the growing number of candles adorning your birthday cake, can impact negatively on sleep!

The good news is that it is in your power to make effortless sleep a reality. By tweaking your lifestyle and attitude to sleep, you can improve your chances of getting good quality rest, regularly. These tweaks may take some effort but, once you’ve overcome the first few days (and nights), they quickly become part of your everyday routine.

We are told that sleep is a natural process that we have little power over, but it has been shown that we give ourselves the best chance of good sleep when we maintain good sleep habits. So, if you’re wondering how you might be able to achieve that effortless sleep night after night, read on for a glance at what the latest sleep research tells us we should be doing.

1. Aerobic exercise can help (but not too late in the day!).

A well-known sleep fix, aerobic (or cardiovascular) exercise has been shown to improve self-reported sleep quality, particularly among the elderly [1]. If you don’t exercise much, even just a 10-minute walk a day might up the odds of sleeping well, as suggested by the National Sleep Foundation[2].

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There does indeed seem to be a link between being fit physically and achieving better sleep quality. For example, one study on young women found a correlation between poorer sleep quality and lower fitness measures such as cardiovascular fitness and flexibility [3]. More recently, research has focussed on how obesity might affect sleep, revealing that excess weight can indeed hinder sleep quality both in adolescents [4] and older adults [5].

The key thing in adding exercise to your day is not to let it encroach on your evening routine. Exercising leaves us feeling energised and wide awake which can chase away sleepiness towards the end of the day, thus potentially delaying sleep.

2. Keep your wake-up time consistent. (Even on the weekends!)

Keeping your wake-up time consistent is actually more important than having a set bedtime. Our body clock, one of the two systems in control of sleep, is reset after waking each morning so a steady rising time helps to keep it working well.

3. Re-consider naps.

Whilst research isn’t consistent on whether naps during the day improve or interfere with sleep quality, avoiding naps may be something to try. Letting sleep permeate daytime (when we are supposed to be awake) can confuse both the body clock and the other system managing our sleep: sleep pressure.

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Sleep pressure usually builds up over the course of the day—rising from its lowest point in the morning to its peak at bedtime. Topping up on sleep while sleep pressure is meant to be increasing can interrupt this process and, as a result, postpone our bedtime. So there is good logic behind suggestions to keep sleep and wakefulness in separate blocks.

However, there will always be exceptions (some elderly for example [9]) so don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you best.

4. Take care of your mind.

Guided relaxation techniques and meditation have been shown to help sleep set in more quickly and to boost sleep quality. Relaxation techniques in particular have clinical evidence behind them as they are frequently used as part of wholesome psychological approaches to treating sleep problems, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Whilst these techniques may not help on their own if you’ve suffered from poor sleep for a long time, those of us who are fairly good sleepers may still benefit from including them in our routines.

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Relaxing in bed with non-engaging music has also been shown to aid sleep. In a couple of studies, the elderly listening to classical music shortly before bedtime achieved better quality sleep [7-8].

5. Limit alcohol and nicotine, especially in the evening.

It’s true that alcoholic beverages can make us feel snoozy, especially in the evening, but the trade-off for this can be poor sleep quality, as alcohol actually disrupts our sleep later in the night. As it’s broken down in our system, our body undergoes a kind of withdrawal which can not only have us waking up through the night, but it can also leave us wide awake hours earlier than our usual wake-up time.

So if quality sleep comes first, reducing alcohol later in the day may help. One study showed even taken at 4pm it can still cause sleep disruption [10].

Nicotine, on the other hand, can leave us feeling more awake than before, which may lead to us taking longer to fall asleep. A large-scale study also indicated that nicotine can reduce sleep quality, especially in those smokers with higher levels of dependancy [6].

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6. Smaller meals in the evening.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that certain foods can improve sleep or get us quality sleep, but sleep science does have a view on eating close to bedtime. A big meal is said to be a no-no as it can shift the body’s focus away from preparing you for sleeping as it has to rev up digestion again.

A smaller meal should be broken down quicker thus helping your whole body to get as much rest as possible so that you rise feeling well-rested, as you should after good quality sleep.

Getting quality sleep via these scientifically proven tweaks may require some effort to settle into new routines. However, they should continue to pay off for the rest of one’s life, laying out a red carpet for quality sleep to occur regularly.

References:
[1] Reid, K., Baron, K.G., Lu, Brandon, Naylor, E., Wolfe, L., Zee, P.C. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Medicine 11(9), 934-940.
[2] National Sleep Foundation http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/national-sleep-foundation-poll-finds-exercise-key-good-sleep
[3] Lee, A.J., Lin, W.H. (2007). Association between sleep quality and physical fitness in female young adults. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 47(4), 462-467.
[4] Gupta, N.K., Mueller, W.H., Chan, W., Meininger, J.C. (2002). Is obesity associated with poor sleep quality in adolescents? American Journal of Human Biology, 14(6), 762-8.
[5] Hung, H.C., Yang, Y.C., Ou, H.Y., Wu, J.S., Lu, F.H., Chang, C.J. (2013). The association between self-reported sleep quality and overweight in a Chinese population. Obesity, 21(3), 486-92.
[6] Cohrs, et al. 2012. Impaired sleep quality and sleep duration in smokers—results from the German Multicenter Study on Nicotine Dependence. Addiction Biology, doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2012.00487.x
[7] Johnson, J.E. (2003). The use of music to promote sleep in older women. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 20(1), 27-35.
[8] Lai, H.L., Good, M. (2005). Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(3), 234-244.
[9] Tanaka, H., et al. 2002. Short naps and exercise improve sleep quality and mental health in the elderly. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 56(3), 233-234.
[10] Van Reen, E., Tarokh, L., Rupp, T.L., Seifer, R., Carskadon, M.A. (2011). Does timing of alcohol administration affect sleep? SLEEP, 34(2), 195-205.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

1. Understand Yourself Better

Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

2. Keep Track of Small Changes

I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

3. Become Aware of What Matters

As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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4. Boost Creativity

The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

6. Process Life Experiences

When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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7. Stress Relief

In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

8. Provide Direction

Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

9. Solve Problems

Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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10. Find Relief From Fighting

Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

11. Find Meaning in Life

Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

12. Allow Yourself to Focus

Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

14. Let the Past Go

I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

15. Allow Freedom

Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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16. Enhance Your Career

Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

18. Catalog Your Life for Others

No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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