You know that a not sleeping well can make you cranky, but did you know that how well you sleep can affect your physical health, too? Consistently poor sleep has been linked to a increased risk of accidents. It can also contribute to chronic health conditions, from obesity and diabetes to hypertension and heart disease, as well as stress, depression, and anxiety. So getting a good night’s sleep is important.
What’s the connection? As you sleep, your mind and body repair themselves. If you’re coming down with an infection, for example, your immune system will release proteins called cytokines while you’re asleep. These proteins do two things: They fight infection and they regulate deeper sleep. The more sleep you get when you’re sick, and the deeper that sleep is, the better you’ll be able to fight the infection.
So how do you get a good night’s sleep? It takes a little TLC—Timing, Limits, and Comfort.
- A regular sleep cycle is key, so try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Create a bedtime routine, such as reading, taking a warm bath, playing restful music, or doing gentle stretches. A nightly ritual lets your mind know that it’s time to wind down.
- If you’re a napper, try to keep naps to 30 minutes and no later than mid-afternoon.
- Exercise can lead to better sleep, but if you find it energizes you, keep late-afternoon or evening workouts to a slower pace.
- Instead of eating a hearty dinner in the evenings, make lunchtime your main meal. You’ll have more time to digest it. Cutting down on spicy foods can also help prevent heartburn.
- Drink less fluid before bedtime, especially if you wake up frequently to go to the bathroom. (Warm milk or herbal tea in the early evening may help you relax, though.)
- You probably know to avoid caffeine, but don’t forget about chocolate and even coffee ice cream. Tea and cola can also be stimulating.
- Do you smoke? Remember that nicotine is a stimulant. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep.
- Research indicates that TV or too much computer time too close to bed can have a stimulating effect on the brain. Stick with a book or magazine. Change bedroom lights to low-wattage bulbs and block light from windows and electrical devices, like digital clocks or cell phones.
- If you have to get up to use the bathroom at night regularly, turn on a lamp with low wattage or a nightlight instead of bright or overhead lights. It will be easier to fall back asleep.
- Create a comfortable sleeping environment: Do you need a pitch-dark room and no noise at all, or is the whirr of a fan reassuring to you? Find ways to regulate temperature, too. The goal is to make sure your bedroom meets your needs.
- Be sure your mattress and pillow aren’t keeping you up at night. (One sign: You wake up feeling more refreshed after a night in a hotel or while visiting others than you do in your own bed.)
- If you have trouble falling asleep within 15 minutes, don’t toss and turn. Get up and read a book or listen to music until you feel tired. (Avoid reading on a phone or tablet, or watching TV. Blue light can interfere with sleep.)
- Find ways to manage stress. Taking care of yourself and making time to relax can help to put your mind at ease.
If after using these tips for two weeks you still are not getting a good night’s sleep, consult your doctor for other options.
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