July 11, 2018

How to Get a Great Night’s Sleep

With our busy lives and hectic schedules, it’s no wonder that Americans on average get less than the recommended amount of sleep. But sleep is vital to our overall health and wellbeing, and not getting enough of it—at least seven hours per night—can cause a multitude of health issues, from high blood pressure to anxiety and depression.

Even if you are getting enough sleep, have you ever given thought to the quality of your sleep? Many people have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or practice daily habits that could actually be inhibiting their sleep without even knowing it. When it comes to getting quality sleep, take a look at your bedroom. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary where you can relax and forget about the stresses of everyday life. The National Sleep Foundation suggests getting in touch with your five senses, and taking a look at what changes you could make to your bedroom and nightly routine to enhance your quality and duration of sleep and overall wellbeing.

Touch

Feeling comfortable is a critical component in getting quality sleep. You might just think of your mattress when it comes to sleep comfort, but temperature, pillows, and pajamas play an important role as well.

Many sleep experts suggest that a cooler room—around 65 degrees—is better for sleep. But in addition to the air, your mattress, blankets, and pajamas can affect your overall body temperature throughout the night. If you tend to wake up sweating, you may want to consider lighter, more breathable pajamas, such as pajamas made of cotton or moisture-wicking materials. Shivering also makes for restless sleep, so you may want to consider adding a blanket or increasing the air temperature slightly if you tend to wake up from being too cold. Keeping your body temperature regulated through the night is an important component of getting adequate sleep.

The surface of your mattress and feel of your pillows also affect sleep. Your mattress should be comfortable and supportive, whether that’s a firm mattress, pillow top, memory foam, or whichever type works best for you and your body. Mattresses have a lifespan of generally 5-10 years, but if you find that you are waking up stiff or achy regularly, you should consider purchasing a new mattress sooner. Pillows should adequately support your head and neck and experts recommend swapping them out for newer ones every two years. Just as you wash your clothes and sheets, mattresses and pillows should be cleaned regularly as well. Most pillows can generally be machine washed and dried; for information on cleaning your mattress, check out the National Sleep Foundation’s website for helpful tips.

Taste

You may have heard that it’s not recommended to eat right before bed. But did you know that the type of foods you eat can actually have an effect on your sleep? Certain foods can increase drowsiness if they contain the amino acid tryptophan—a building block of the sleep-related chemical known as serotonin. Have you ever experienced the notorious post-Thanksgiving lethargy? Turkey is actually known to contain tryptophan, which may explain why we sometimes feel the need to immediately nap after overindulging in a big turkey dinner. Other foods that contain this amino acid include eggs, chicken, fish, and nuts. Evidence is mixed on whether or not the amount contained in foods is actually enough to affect sleep, but it’s still a good thing to keep in mind when planning out evening meals.

Just as there are foods that can aid in sleep, certain others can actually inhibit your sleep. It is best to avoid stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine. If you choose to eat before bed, try eating lighter snacks, and save larger, more protein-rich meals for daytime. It’s also good to avoid oily, deep-fried, and fatty foods as these can cause indigestion and upset stomach.

Smell

What you breathe throughout the night can have a big effect on how you feel the next day. Some evidence suggests that certain scents can actually help you relax before bed, providing for a deeper night’s sleep. Research shows that lavender scent can decrease heart rate and blood pressure. Many proponents of lavender essential oil suggest smelling the scent or applying it topically can help you relax before bed. Other relaxing scents include vanilla, jasmine, and eucalyptus. Try adding essential oil diffusers or wall plug-ins to your bedroom to make it a fresh and relaxing space.

For people with allergies, air quality and cleanliness are important when it comes to quality of sleep. If you are allergic to elements such as dust and pollen, it’s a good idea to clean your home—and especially your bedroom—as often as possible. Consider purchasing an air purifier, which removes allergens from the air. It’s also recommended to wash your sheets and pillowcases at least once a week. Not only does it help eliminate dust mites, but the scent of freshly washed sheets will make for a great night’s sleep.

Sight

All human bodies have an internal clock—the circadian rhythm—that mirrors nature’s cycles of day and night. Signals in the body respond to light cues during the day and night letting our bodies know when to be alert and when it’s time to wind down. Artificial light in your bedroom can send wake-up messages to your brain, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay sleeping throughout the night. Artificial light includes lamps, streetlights, and even the glow from bright electronics such as a TV or alarm clock. To replace regular lighting, you can try low-wattage, incandescent lamps next to your bed instead. To block other lights, you can try blackout curtains and covering up glows with a towel or washcloth.

As technology usage continues to increase, it’s especially important to be aware of blue light and how using devices that emit blue light—smartphones and other electronic devices—can negatively affect your sleep. Researchers at Harvard conducted an experiment comparing the effects of human exposure to blue light versus others, and found that blue light suppresses the secretion of melatonin at much more potent levels and even shifts your circadian rhythm.

Using smartphones and other electronic devices before bed can greatly hinder your sleep. Experts suggest using red dim lights for night lights and avoid looking at bright screens or using electronic devices for at least two hours before bed. Instead, try reading a book to relax or even taking a warm bath. For people that work night shifts or heavily use electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses. You can even install an app on your phone to filter blue light at night.

Sound

Have you ever woken up to a loud noise in the middle of the night? The human brain continues to register sound even while you are asleep, and depending on the stage of sleep you are in, some sounds can wake you.

Whether you wake or not, your brain is still registering the noise, which is disrupting the quality of your sleep. The best way to wake up feeling well rested and rejuvenated is to sleep in a quiet bedroom, void of auditory distractions.

For people that have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, research has shown that white noise can help improve sleep quality. White noise refers to a constant ambient sound, such as a sound conditioner or air purifier. You can even download an app on your phone. Because the sound is constant, it helps reduce louder background sounds, such as a slamming door or car horn, which would otherwise wake you up. Keep in mind that televisions do not have the same effect as white noise. Leaving a television on makes you vulnerable to constant changes in tone and volume, which ultimately has an adverse effect on sleep quality.

Sleep is vital to humanity. We spend nearly one third of our lives asleep. It’s never too late to evaluate your current habits, get in touch with your senses, and see which areas you may be able to improve.