Get a sleep refresh with our DIY guide to better sleep!
You know how a terrific night’s sleep can make you feel. Your body has enjoyed those important hours of rest and rejuvenation and you wake up feeling refreshed, happy and ready for whatever the day brings.
But did you know that getting a good night’s sleep often begins with how you spend your days? A healthy life is built on a balanced foundation of diet, exercise and sleep – and all three are equally important.
“Good sleep, both quantity and quality, are essential for functioning at your best during your waking hours,” says Nancy H. Rothstein, founder of thesleepambassador.com. “Your physical, mental, and emotional health are dependent on healthy sleep.”
Denise Gassner, PhD, sleep educator and founder of There’s a Monster in my Closet, says consistent sleep habits help maintain cardiovascular health, normal blood pressure and normal blood sugar levels. Sleep enhances your immune system and brain function, including memory, judgement, motivation and emotional reactions. Bottom line, a good night’s sleep is important to your physical and mental well-being.
If you want to stay on the drug-free side of healthy sleep, it’s time to hack your sleep – for the good of your health.
Healthy daytime tips your body – and sleep health – will thank you for
- Eat smart. Healthy eating throughout the day helps you sleep better at night. Stick to foods that balance rather than spike blood sugar levels, especially in the evening. Why? Because too much sugar in your bloodstream wakes you up, says James Cobb, RN, MSN. Eating a larger meal at noon and something smaller at dinner is even better because the body slows down for sleep in the evening and will have trouble digesting large meals close to bedtime. And if snacking is your kryptonite, try foods like peaches and Greek yogurt or parmesan cheese toast. They have just the right amount of carbohydrates and protein to satisfy cravings without tipping the balance of blood sugar.
- Exercise often. You already know exercise is great for your health but the good news is how it naturally prepares you for sleep. Think of sleep like a gas tank. Throughout the day, physical activity (unlike stress) depletes the tank naturally. Start with a brisk 30-minute morning walk a few times a week. If an outdoor walk isn’t possible, try a simple routine, like the one from Health.com, mixing cardio and strength training in the comfort of your own home. Or join the folks that walk laps around your local shopping mall. Just make sure you don’t stop and window shop. Keep moving to get your heart rate up.
- Let the sun in. Exposure to the sun’s rays, packed with Vitamin D, helps us produce melatonin – the hormone that plays an important role in regulating sleep cycles. Natural light is also important for our circadian rhythm – the internal clock that tells us whether it’s day or night. When you wake up in the morning, open your shutters and curtains to let those rays in. On a dark and dreary day, put on bright lights inside your home. This can also help you feel more positive on those grey days.
- Nap strategically. According to the National Sleep Foundation, short naps (20-30 minutes) can boost energy and help refresh you, but napping too late in the day might affect your nighttime sleep patterns making it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime. Try the ultimate power nap with a cup of cool coffee before you lay down. Coffee takes approx. 20 minutes to travel through your system and can provide a nice little energy boost when you’re waking from your nap.
Settle in for a good night’s sleep with these bedtime tips
- Nix the alcohol. Minimize your alcohol intake in the evening – especially 2 hours before you plan to sleep. Your nightly glass of wine before bed may help you fall asleep but, according to WebMD, can disrupt REM sleep, the restorative sleep dream stage. This “may cause daytime drowsiness, poor concentration and rob you of needed ZZZs.”
- Curb the caffeine. According to The National Sleep Foundation, ingesting more than 500 milligrams of caffeine (approx.. 4 cups of coffee) per day, can interfere with sleep cycles. Stop drinking coffee by 2 pm and if you really feel like a cup of java later in the day, stick to decaf. And remember, caffeine is also found in chocolate, sodas, teas and energy drinks.
- Power down. Blue light emitted from our electronic screens wakes our brains, boosting attention and reaction times. Turn off electronics an hour before sleep and go old school with an actual book. Made from paper. Remember those?
- Prepare yourself. Establish a predictable pre-sleep routine to help your body create that melatonin spike needed for sleep (as well as the dip needed during waking hours). Start preparing for sleep an hour before bedtime, allowing you to mentally start relaxing.
- Wind down slowly. A warm bath or shower, chamomile tea and soothing music will all help you mentally purge the stress of the day before bedtime. And remember, experts believe that clutter makes us feel anxious, so tidy up before bedtime.
- Meditate. According to the National Sleep Foundation, meditation can help treat insomnia. Meditating while laying down in bed may help you drift off to sleep. Double bonus.
- Consider magnesium. Magnesium, a mineral that plays an important role in everything from heart health to stress reduction, is also a sleep superstar. Even in the best of times, most Americans (estimates range from 60% to 90%) are low on magnesium. Dr. Carolyn Dean, a physician and naturopathic doctor based in Kihei, Hawaii, as well as a medical advisory board member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association, suggests adding ¼ to 1/2 teaspoon of sea or Himalayan salt (both may contain magnesium) to every quart of drinking water, or sipping on water throughout the day with magnesium citrate powder. Always talk to your health-care provider before taking any kind of supplement.
- Snack with caution. Certain foods are considered helpful for sleep, including cherries (contain small levels of melatonin), pumpkin seeds and bananas (rich in magnesium), and other foods like almonds, turkey, and dairy products (mom was right about that warm glass of milk before bed).
Aim for a snack sweet spot that satisfies you without spiking your blood sugar or forcing your digestive system to work hard to process them. Try these delicious, wholesome suggestions:
- 1/2 cup of berries or 1?4 cup of dried fruit and 1/4 cup serving nuts
- 1/2 cup cereal with milk
- 3 cups popped popcorn and 1 tablespoon nut butter
- 1 cracker and 1.5 oz cottage cheese
- 2 tablespoons of dressing, pesto, hummus or other dip with high fiber raw vegetables (e.g. carrots, celery and/or radishes)
- 1 oz low fat cheese with 4 100% whole grain crackers
- 1/2 sweet potato with 1-2 tablespoons of butter and cinnamon
- 1 cup of broccoli with 1-2 oz melted cheese
- 1/2 banana with 2 tablespoons of nut butter
One last thought before tucking in for bed…
Chronic stress can interfere with sleep, often turning up in our dreams, says Christine Hansen, sleep expert and founder of Sleep Like A Boss. “If we don’t deal with what is triggering us during the day it can come out at nighttime when our brain doesn’t have anything else to do.” She suggests keeping a journal and writing down whatever triggers, upsets or angers you during the day, or make a quick note of it when it happens, “so it’s not waiting to be heard at nighttime.”
- Sleep deprivation affects the quality of life of 45% of the world’s population (World Association of Sleep Medicine)
- A Consumer National Research Study found that 76% of Americans want to improve the quality and quantity of their sleep.
- A CDC study found more than 40 million workers (that’s about 30% of the country’s workforce) get fewer than six hours of sleep per night.
- According to the National Sleep Foundation, 50% of adults report sleep problems a few nights a week or more and two-thirds of all women have persistent, regular sleep problems.
- A Harvard Medical Study found one in four U.S. workers has insomnia. This compromises their work, costing U.S. employers $63 billion in lost productivity each year.