Better Sleep for Better Mornings
Genetics may explain why some people get a better night’s rest than others. Research into genetic factors associated with sound sleep could eventually improve our understanding of how to help people with sleep disorders, according to researchers whose work was published in the February 2016 edition of the journal Nature Communications.
While researchers study the causes of sleep disruptions, however, there are a number of practical ways to prepare your sleeping space, your body, and your mind to increase the chances of sound sleep.
Better Sleep Spaces
Bedding down in a cool, dark room with adequate humidity can promote a good night’s sleep.
- Darkness is your body’s cue to begin releasing the sleep-inducing hormone known as melatonin. Dim overhead lights or switch to lower lamp settings before bed to nudge this process into action.
- Keeping your bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is helpful in preparing your body for the drop in temperature that occurs during slumber. Experiment with your thermostat and covers to find what makes you the most comfortable.
- Snoring can occur when your throat becomes too dry. A humidifier can be very useful in keeping enough moisture in your sleep environment to stave off snoring. Fair warning: keep humidifiers clean and sanitized to avert sinus problems.
Physical Readiness for Sleep
The tiredness that follows exercise can make it easier to rest, and stimulants like caffeine can make it harder. It is also possible to encourage sound sleep by enhancing the natural drop in body temperature at night, and by avoiding alcohol, which interferes with the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.
- Resistance training, such as weight-lifting, is the best type of evening exercise, because this is the time of day when our bodies are most efficiently processing proteins. A cardiovascular workout might actually make it harder to relax because it stimulates brain activity and taps your adrenaline. Give yourself at least two hours to cool down.
- Dietitians recommend eating your last large meal two to three hours before going to bed. A snack is OK if it’s any longer than that, but avoid anything spicy, or stimulants like caffeine.
- Look for foods that have high concentrations of sleep-friendly nutrients like vitamin C (pineapples, oranges, strawberries, bell peppers); lycopene (grapefruit, tomatoes, watermelon, papaya); and selenium (fish, turkey, nuts). Avoid foods that can cause congestion and exacerbate snoring, such as dairy products, chocolate, or fried foods.
- The body’s temperature begins to drops naturally in the evening and continues during sleep. If you take a hot bath, or even a shower, a couple hours before bedtime, you can create a steeper drop in body temperature that gets you into a deeper slumber.
- Drinking alcohol within 90 minutes of going to bed reduces the length of time spent in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, causing you to be less alert during waking hours. Alcohol also makes you more likely to snore because of how it relaxes the throat muscles. This can augment or even cause sleep apnea, which describes a condition in which airways collapse, causing breathing to slow or stop during sleep.
- A stuffy nose can impede quality sleep, particularly with minor illnesses like the cold or flu wreaking havoc on sinus cavities. If you’re not currently under the weather, yet your blocked nose gets worse at night, allergies or sinusitis may be to blame. Other possible culprits include having a deviated septum or nasal polyps, extra tissue in the nasal passage caused by chronic inflammation. (One good reason to not leave your sinusitis untreated!)
Mental Readiness for Sleep
Bedtime and screen time are incompatible, but the contemplative nature of reading can create a fine transition to dreamland.
- Not only is the bright light of a television, tablet or smartphone capable of causing turmoil with your hormonal schedule, but visual activity keeps your brain more alert.
- Sussex University in England says reading is better for reducing stress than listening to music or drinking tea. The relaxing effects of escaping into a story begin in as little as six minutes!
Whatever works for you, stick to it. Our minds and bodies adapt to the conditions we set for them; consistent sleep schedules and bedtime routines can be powerful over the course of weeks and months in helping you get the best sleep possible.
Image by Andriy Popov.