Rethink your sleep habits & adopt a healthy perspective to start the new year!
We’re pretty sure everyone agrees 2020 was one for the record books. As we wrap it up – and get ready to kick it to the curb – we’ve got our sights set on the promise of a new year, another chance to start again. While hope might get us through the dark winter months ahead, we need an action plan to get us through – healthy and safe. Some things we can control, others we can’t – but our good (or bad) health falls squarely on our shoulders.
Ready to make a healthy, happy lifestyle your new priority? To help get you started on your journey toward wellness, we asked some leading experts for their suggestions on resolutions that can make 2021 a banner year for great sleep.
1. Redesign your bedroom to create an optimal sleep environment. A clean, uncluttered bedroom can help you relax into sleep faster. If your bedroom is on the smallish side and you’d like to free up more floor space (and control clutter), consider moving a chest of drawers into your closet (if it’s big enough), buy containers that slide under the bed and instead of nightstands, install floating shelves next to your bed. Hang your TV rather than a stand on the floor. And eliminate any non-essential pieces of furniture. For the bed itself, choose a bed with just a headboard and no footboard to create a greater sense of spaciousness.
2. Banish the noise and keep the peace. Even though you’re sleeping, your brain continues to register and process sound. Noise can disturb your sleep, waking you or bumping you from deep to light sleep. According to experts, nocturnal noise can also cause adverse physical reactions during sleep, such as raising your blood pressure and increasing levels of stress hormones. If you live on a busy city street, consider investing in a white noise machine. The constant ambient sound helps to mask disturbing noises. Earplugs and an eye mask can also help you fall into a deeper sleep.
3. Embrace the dark. Exposure to light when you’re trying to fall asleep can reset the body’s clock and delay sleep. Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible when you go to bed. If streetlight shines through your curtains, blackout shades or blinds will keep your room dark at night and in the morning. Use dim nightlights in the hallway and bathroom so you don’t have to switch on ceiling lights if nature calls during the night. Lastly, if you must sleep with your phone beside your bed, use the night settings to dim the display.
4. Maintain your cool. Your body temperature naturally decreases during sleep. If your bedroom is too hot, it can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep. Research suggests that a cool room between 60-65 degrees F (16 -19 C) helps keep your body at the right sleeping temperature. Be sure the covers you sleep under are the right thickness to keep you comfortable and not too warm. On hot summer nights, cool the room with a ceiling fan or a fan placed in front of an open window.
5. Take a critical look at your current mattress. You can adopt all the best bedtime and sleep habits in the world but if your mattress is no longer supporting you, healthy sleep will continue to be a challenge. If you’re not getting the sleep you need, it’s time to consider shopping for a new mattress. Not sure you’re ready to go mattress shopping? If you answer yes to any of these questions, it’s time:
- You wake up with aches and pains. Do you wake up with a sore back or achy joints on a regular basis?
- You’re tired all the time. Do you often wake up still tired after a full night’s sleep?
- Your mattress looks old. Does your mattress look beat up? Does it sag? Is it lumpy?
- You sleep better away from home. Do you find yourself getting a better night’s sleep in a bed that is not your own (like a hotel for example)?
- Your mattress is old. When’s the last time you bought a new mattress? Based on amount of use and quality of the mattress, it’s recommended to replace your mattress every 7-10 years.
6. Unplug. One of our worst nighttime habits is bringing our phones to bed – and scrolling through them before we plan to sleep. The blue light from that tiny screen negatively impacts our ability to naturally produce melatonin, a hormone needed for sleep. A resolution to embrace? Turn off your devices an hour before sleep.
7. Exercise during the day. Exercise can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. It helps to reset the body’s clock, increasing daytime alertness and sleepiness at night. It also promotes sleep by naturally reducing stress and anxiety. Research has shown that exercise increases both total sleep time and the amount of deep, slow wave sleep. Win win, right?
8. Set a caffeine and alcohol curfew. Caffeine and alcohol can adversely affect your sleep, even if consumed 6 hours before bedtime. If you want to sleep soundly through the night, don’t drink caffeine after 5 p.m. and limit yourself to one small alcoholic beverage after dinner.
9. R-E-L-A-X. Can’t sleep? Stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia – and we’ve had more than our fair share of both in 2020. Anxious thoughts and worries can trigger the release of stress-hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare the mind and body for ‘fight or flight’ by increasing arousal and alertness. Relaxing music can decrease anxiety, heart and respiratory rate and blood pressure. A meta-analysis of five clinical trials with a total of 170 participants found that music had a significant effect on the sleep quality of patients with sleep complaints.
10. Become a superstar napper. Naps can help you become more energetic, productive and creative. They can also decrease work-related stress and help prevent burnout. The most beneficial type of nap is one in which you fall asleep quickly, sleep well for a brief time and wake up feeling alert and reinvigorated. Timing is key. Most people are naturally a bit drowsy in the afternoon between 1-3 p.m. But don’t sleep for too long. There’s research to support 10-minute naps – some studies have indicated they are better than 30-minute naps.
11. Invest in a good humidifier. Doctors recommend keeping the air a little moist during the cold winter months to support your breathing during sleep. Remember to clean it every couple of days so you don’t create the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.
12. Establish bedtime habits that include a regular bedtime. “My best advice for sleep health is to ‘baby yourself,’” says Dr. Tara Nayak, a naturopathic physician practicing in Philadelphia, PA. “For those of us that have raised children, we know that a sleep ritual is important to establish a consistent sleep pattern as a baby grows up and starts to sleep through the night. I encourage my adult patients to do the same thing.” She suggests creating a bedtime routine focused on the senses that should be repeated every night at the same time. “It’s important for our bodies to have routine because it helps to regulate our internal clocks that are important for signaling hormone and neurotransmitter release,” she adds.
13. Boost your intake of magnesium. Magnesium facilitates sleep regulating melatonin (sleep hormone) production, relieves muscle tension that can disrupt sleep and prevent restful sleep and activates GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, and its activation favors sleep. “Most Americans (about 75%) do not get their RDA of this mineral,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, medical advisory board member, Nutritional Magnesium Association and author of The Magnesium Miracle. “This is the sleep mineral and anti-stress mineral that all of us need.” Prepare a water bottle with a teaspoon or two of magnesium citrate powder and sip this throughout the day and have it available at your bedside. Take a big swig when you wake up in the middle of the night. In this form, it’s fast acting and highly absorbable. It will help you get restful, rejuvenating sleep.
14. Splurge on quality sleepwear. High-quality fabrics next to your skin just make you feel good, so choose jammies accordingly. Being strategic about what your sleep attire is made of can help to regulate your body temperature during the night, which, in turn, can promote better slumber. Consider sleepwear made from bamboo. It’s silky on the skin and is a natural moisture-wicker, which helps regulate body temperature. Whatever you buy, make sure it fits well. Looser pajamas move more easily over your body when you sleep. Skip designs with buttons, snaps, and tags, which can be irritating. Of course, you can always opt to sleep nude…
15. Ease your stress. “My favorite habit for a New Year’s resolution is what I call the 10-minute worry, aka 10MW,” says Michael Duncan, editor of Be Right Light. “Give yourself 10 minutes to worry before bed and write them down. All the to-dos, problems and ideas go down on paper to help empty your mind so you can relax.” He says that doing the 10MW regularly will help you fall asleep faster and boost your productivity in the morning because you already have your list of to-dos on hand.
16. Buy a bright light alarm clock. Alarm clocks that are designed to grow increasingly brighter as it’s time to wake up will help restart your natural wake-up response. Throughout the dark winter months, waking up can be a challenge – especially if we’re summer sunrise wakers. If you’re suffering from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) a suitably powerful therapy light can help get your brain back on track.
17. Eat breakfast. When you skip breakfast, your body conserves resources and stores calories in an effort to keep you alive. You know you’re going to eat again at lunch but your body has been slowly starving since you went to bed last night – and your continued denial of food puts all systems in full protection mode. “Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can make you feel tired and hungry and more likely to reach for high-fat, high-calorie snacks. In fact, people who eat breakfast are more likely to maintain a healthy weight than those who don’t,” says the British Heart Foundation.
18. Change your sleep position. Is your preferred sleep position the best one for your health? Kansas City-based wellness practitioner and founder of Your Wellness Connection Dr. Michelle Robin recommends protecting your neck and back sleeping on your side or back. Sleeping on your back is the best sleep position for the health and alignment of your spine. If you’re a devoted back sleeper, put a pillow under your knees. Lying completely flat can put stress on your lower back and cause you to wake up in pain.
19. Upgrade your pillows. To keep your neck and head supported throughout the night, even as your muscles relax and you are no longer holding your head up, you need a supportive pillow that your neck can rest on, according to Dr. Robin.
20. Get tested for sleep apnea. Chronic snoring could be sign of sleep apnea, a serious condition with critical side effects. It puts you at very high risk of developing chronic diseases and complications, from heart failure and stroke, to diabetes, insomnia and even death. “When a person suffers from sleep apnea and is not being treated or being compliant with their treatment, their body is being deprived of the oxygen it needs to function normally,” says Al Greene, vice president of marketing with Bleep (a company that manufactures and sells an alternative to traditional CPAP machines). Talk to your physician about getting tested.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Why sleep is a powerful weapon against the flu
- Bad sleep advice hall of fame – 9 sleep tips to NEVER follow
- Your mattress protector – the one accessory your bed can’t be without