Even if you can’t always get 40 winks, these tips will help you get quality shut-eye. You’ll find some time-tested tactics that still prove effective, and some new ideas, too.
- Stick to a schedule
The golden rule for consistently getting a good night’s sleep is to maintain a sleep schedule, even on the weekends and when you’re on vacation. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day regulates your body’s clock, and helps you fall asleep more easily and wake up feeling refreshed.
- See the sun
Exposure to natural light during the day promotes a healthy level and cycle of melatonin in our bodies, which helps us get to sleep at night. Go for a morning or midday walk or take your lunch breaks out in the sun — every little bit of sunlight helps. Aim for 30 – 45 minutes of sunlight.
- Exercise early
Exercising in the morning not only encourages you to keep to your sleep schedule and exposes you to early morning sunlight if you’re training outside, it also helps your body feel ready for bed at night. If you’re an afternoon trainer, make sure you finish up your workout at least 3 hours before bedtime, to give your body enough time to wind down. Caveat: If you are sleep deprived, there is great research that shows performance increases with sleep and at times it will make sense to skip the am gym routine and sleep in.”
- Wind-down ritual
An hour or more before bedtime, you should start to relax. Turn down the lights, turn off your computer and TV and do some low-energy activities like listening to music, meditating or reading a book or magazine in soft light (the blue light from TV, computer and mobile screens has been shown to keep us awake). Find out what works for you and make it your bedtime ritual.
- Create a sleep sanctuary
Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and as free of blue-light emitting technology as you can make it. Reading, browsing the web on your phone or watching TV should be done elsewhere.
- Keep it cool
Studies have shown that the majority of people sleep best in a room cooled to about 65F. You can amplify the feelings of sleepiness by having a hot shower or bath before bed, as the cool plunge from the bathroom to your bedroom — and your drop in body temperature — signals that it’s time for sleep.
- Watch what you eat (and drink)
Large meals before bed may help you feel sleepy as your body digests, but they ultimately cause poor sleep. Try having your largest meal early in the afternoon, and avoid meals that disagree with you, such as spicy, acidic or fatty food. The same goes with alcohol: while it may appear to help you go to sleep, it can drastically reduce your sleep quality during the night. Caffeine can affect your body up to 12 hours after consuming it, so keep your coffee to the morning only.
- Work your legs
Just before you go to bed, do some light leg stretches or exercises to get your blood flowing away from your brain. Stretching your legs can also alleviate symptoms of night-time leg cramps and restless leg syndrome.
- Lie on your side
Research has uncovered that sleeping on your side is the best position to remove waste chemicals from your brain, and can reduce your chances of developing neurological diseases later in life. It makes sense: 63 percent of Americans find that sleeping on their side is the most comfortable and natural position. Side sleeping also helps to keep your airways open and can improve your circulation. Placing a firm pillow between your knees will help you keep your spine in alignment during the night.
- Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a meditation technique in which the mind is focused on an awareness of the present moment and of your current sensory experiences rather than abstract concerns about the past or future. This reduces stressful thoughts, anxieties and worries. Not surprisingly, it can be a powerful aid to sleep according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. In the study 49 adults were split into two groups: one given tips on how to sleep better and the other shown how to practice mindfulness meditation. Those who did meditation showed significantly less insomnia, fatigue and depression!
THE JET-LAG CURE
If you’re going to be traveling to a different time zone, when you eat may be the key to overcoming jet lag. A study from Harvard Medical School has shown that fasting for 12 to 16 hours before you want to have breakfast in your new time zone can flip your biological clock in a single day. By fasting for up to 16 hours before your intended breakfast, your body adjusts to your new “morning” routine, and can even override your light-based circadian rhythm that predicts your sleep.
Make sure you still follow a good sleep routine in your new time zone as well, and if you can, get plenty of sunlight when you wake up, to kickstart your new sleep/wake cycle.
HOW TO POWER NAP
A power nap can be a good way to refresh yourself if you’re feeling tired during the day. But to prevent it from interrupting your regular sleep cycle or making you feel groggy, there are some rules you should follow:
- Pick your time — you should take your nap between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. so as not to interrupt your nighttime sleep cycle.
- Set your alarm — the ideal power nap lasts between 10 and 30 minutes. Any longer than this and you can develop post-sleep inertia — that unpleasant groggy feeling you can get upon waking.
- Get comfortable — choose a place to nap that is dark and quiet, and take a blanket or cover up as your temperature drops when you sleep.
- Practice makes perfect — don’t expect to fall asleep instantly if you’re new at napping. Set aside time to relax and wind down before napping to give you the best chance at success.
Having a big, spicy meal or drinking caffeine before bed can stop you from getting a good night’s sleep. The good news is that there are also foods you can eat that can help you get a restful night.
- Look for food containing the amino acid tryptophan, which helps your body make serotonin and melatonin. These include walnuts, chickpeas and turkey.
- Calcium helps your brain use tryptophan to make melatonin, so reach for a glass of milk, some cheese, yogurt or even kale.
- Food high in B6 such as oily fish, garlic, pistachio nuts and bananas help your body to make melatonin.
- Walnuts and cherries are two foods that naturally contain high amounts of melatonin. Having a small handful of walnuts or a glass of tart cherry juice is proven to help you sleep.
- High-glycemic index grains such as jasmine rice can help you get to sleep faster when you have them with dinner. Studies suggest that the higher amounts of insulin triggered by the high-GI grains increase the amount of tryptophan in your blood and brain.
- Chamomile tea is an old bedtime favorite. It increases the glycine in your body, which relaxes your nerves and muscles. Add a splash of honey to raise your insulin levels for easier sleeping.