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Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Though we tend to focus our attention on events that transpire during our waking lives, we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is an often-overlooked part of life that affects nearly all aspects of human health and well-being, but many of us neglect to prioritize a goods night’s sleep, often erroneously thinking that we can be more productive during the day if we spend less time sleeping. While caffeine can temporarily mitigate the effects of poor sleep, sleeping poorly for a long period of time is linked to a number of health problems, including depressed mood and increased risk of heart disease and obesity. As such, this article will discuss several strategies you can use to improve the quality of your sleep so you can enjoy a more alert and productive waking experience.

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The practices associated with high-quality sleep are referred to as “sleep hygiene,” and include a number of important behaviors, all of which are essential for sufficient rest. Perhaps the most important factor is limiting your use of electronic devices in bed or near bedtime. Ideally, usage of electronic devices should be eliminated before going to sleep, as electronic devices with light-emitting screens stimulate the mind and make it difficult to rest. However, if it’s not possible to avoid using electronics late at night, it may be helpful to activate a blue-light filter on your computer, phone, or other device. These filters tint the screen to a reddish-orange hue, reducing the output of blue light which is thought to inhibit sleep by reducing the body’s production of melatonin. In general, the bed should only be used for sleep and sex, as setting these boundaries helps to create an association in your mind between being in bed and falling asleep, subconsciously helping you to fall asleep faster.

Conditions like depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep/wake cycle, causing you to get too few or too many hours of sleep and sleep at inappropriate times

Making various lifestyle changes can also help to improve sleep quality. Two of the most important lifestyle factors that contribute to sleep quality, as well as overall health, are diet and exercise. Tiring yourself out for a half hour or more of strenuous exercise per day not only improves your cardiovascular health and strength, but it can also relieve anxiety and stress, reduce tension, and prepare the body and mind for sleep. While exercising immediately before going to bed probably isn’t a good idea, exercising earlier in the day can help you feel more tired and prone to sleep later in the night. The food you eat also affects your sleep; eating a large meal immediately before going to bed can keep you awake as your body uses energy to digest food, whereas a diet high in sugar could cause you to wake up several times throughout the night. A healthy diet that includes fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins can not only help you maintain a healthy weight but also improve the quality of your sleep. Be mindful of foods that cause heartburn, as any heartburn sufferer knows that it can prevent you from going to sleep.

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Good psychological health is also important for quality sleep. Conditions like depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep/wake cycle, causing you to get too few or too many hours of sleep and sleep at inappropriate times, so if you’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness, be sure to seek treatment from your health care provider, as these illnesses can often be treated with therapy and medication. One of the actions you can take to improve your mental health, alongside diet and exercise, is to begin a mindfulness meditation practice, which can reduce stress and negative emotions by training the brain to observe experiences with openness and acceptance. Another good way to support mental health is to maintain a regular daily routine, ensuring that you wake up, eat, exercise, and go to bed at the same time every day. Doing so will naturally support the body’s circadian rhythms, helping you to feel tired enough at night to fall asleep quickly and alert enough in the morning to start your day. 

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How to Improve your Sleep Hygiene

Many of us struggle to get a good night’s sleep. But while occasional, infrequent difficulties with sleep have only a small impact on your everyday life, ongoing problems with sleep can disrupt your ability to concentrate, focus, and even drive safely. As such, for the sake of maintaining your general health, it’s important to take a good look at your sleep habits and identify areas that need work. For most people, the concept of “sleep hygiene” is a foreign one, but for people suffering from insomnia, nightmares, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and other similar issues, the principles of sleep hygiene can be instrumental in improving a person’s overall health. Studies have shown that the average adult needs roughly 7-8 hours of sleep per night for optimum health, but according to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep.

Sleep hygiene refers broadly to the set of behaviors and practices most directly linked with healthy sleep. These factors can be combined with medicines such as melatonin that make it easier for a person to fall asleep but can also be effective when implemented on their own. Some of the suggestions in a sleep hygiene practice may seem obvious, such as the recommendation to avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before bed. Other pieces of advice, such as refraining from using the bed for anything except sleep and sex, are more surprising. As such, the first step that a person looking to improve their sleep should take is to educate themselves on the various aspects of sleep hygiene.

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Plenty of websites exist for this purpose, but this article will summarize some of the most significant practices. One of the most important tips is to establish a bedtime routine and stick to it over time. This involves setting a schedule for what time of night you go to bed and when you wake up, and choosing a relaxing activity to engage in before bed, such as taking a bath or reading a book. As the blue light produced by digital displays inhibits the body’s production of melatonin, it’s recommended that you avoid electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, and TVs before you plan to sleep. (If you absolutely must engage with one of these devices late at night, many devices offer a night mode, which gives the screen a red tint to mitigate the impact of blue light.) Speaking of melatonin, it can be helpful to ensure that you’re experiencing an adequate amount of natural sunlight during the day and darkness at night, as the production of this sleep hormone is heavily impacted by ambient light.

Changing your habits throughout the day can also have a positive impact when it comes time to sleep. Regular exercise, even as little as ten minutes per day, can improve the quality of your sleep at night. Whether or not exercising at night has a negative impact on sleep varies on an individual basis, but for most people it’s not recommended. Certain foods, including fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can disrupt the quality of sleep, and while ingesting alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, it too can reduce sleep quality. Taking a nap during the day won’t make up for insufficient nighttime sleep; however, it can help with mood, alertness, and performance, as long as naps are restricted to 30 minutes at most. It’s also important to make sure that your sleep environment is optimized, which means ensuring that your mattress and pillows are comfortable, and the temperature is kept between 60 and 67 degrees. Even small lights, such as LEDs on electronic devices and nightlights, can impact your sleep, and it’s best to sleep in complete darkness.

If you’re interested in improving your sleep hygiene, you don’t have to do it alone. It can be difficult to adjust longstanding habits, and as improving sleep hygiene can take a long time, a lack of improvement at first can be discouraging. For people with more serious sleep issues, cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which sleep hygiene practices are discussed with a psychologist, can help reinforce positive behaviors. Additionally, apps that are designed to help people sleep such as Sleepio attempt to replicate the experience of cognitive-behavioral therapy for sleep hygiene without the expense and hassle of meeting a therapist in-person. And melatonin, a dietary supplement that is produced by the human body in response to darkness in order to prepare for sleep, is available over-the-counter as a safe and effective sleep aid when taken about an hour before bedtime.