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The Habits of Successful Sleep

The Habits of Highly Successful Sleepers

We’ve all heard the old “eight hours of sleep” rule, and on the whole, Americans are pretty good about following that rule (Americans report about 7.5 hours of sleep per night, with an average bedtime of 10:55pm). However, if that were the case, why so many of us still walking around like zombies until our third cup of coffee?

As it turns out, “quality over quantity” applies to your sleeping habits- so even though Americans are technically asleep for the recommended number of hours per night, we’re not getting a high enough quality sleep to feel well-rested. 35% of Americans report their sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair,” and nearly nine million Americans use sleep aids.

Luckily, there are ways to improve your sleep quality without relying on sleep aids. In fact, much of your sleep quality can be attributed to your daily habits and the environment you sleep in. With a few simple changes, you’ll be asleep before you can even count five sheep.

 

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Set Up Your Sleeping Environment

We know how tempting it is to watch Netflix from the comfort of your own bed, but if your bed is regularly used for waking activities (like watching TV or answering emails), your body can associate your bed with those activities, making it harder to fall asleep. Instead, limit those activities to outside the bedroom. Similarly, you may love cuddling your pet in bed, but 53% of people who sleep with pets in bed say that their animals have disturbed their sleep.

Next, take a look around your bedroom. Your thermometer should be set to a comfortable temperature. While the perfect temperature for sleeping varies from person to person, the ideal temperature range for most people is 60-75 degrees F. Also, be aware of any ambient noise in your room; as you sleep, your brain continues to register and process sounds, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Finally, studies have shown that exposure to ambient light while you sleep can cause misalignment of your circadian rhythms. A pair of blackout curtains will keep your room much darker while you sleep.

Of course, your bed is arguably the most important part of your sleeping environment. Both your mattress and its coverings contribute to your quality of sleep, so make sure you have a mattress, sheets, pillowcases, pillows, and comforters that are comfortable to you.

Eliminate Bad Sleeping Habits

You may not realize it, but several aspects of your daily routine can lower your sleep quality. For example, caffeine stimulates adrenaline production, which reduces sleep quality, meaning you should rethink your after-lunch cappuccino. On the other end of the spectrum, many people might believe in the power of a glass of wine or a cocktail before bed to help with drowsiness. While alcohol does initially act as a sedative, the drop in blood alcohol level a few hours later can cause sudden wakefulness.

When you’re already tired, you might be tempted to take a post-work nap. However, studies of children and adults have shown that afternoon naps can hurt your nighttime sleep quality. Instead, nap in short bursts and before 5pm.

Many of us have adopted the bad habit of falling asleep with our phones in our hands, scrolling through emails and social media. In fact, mobile devices and cell phones output the same short-wavelength blue light as the sun, which prevents your body from producing melatonin (a naturally sleep-inducing hormone). Avoid using electronic devices in the hour before bed.

Finally, stress is one of the most common causes of disturbed sleep, even if it’s minor. Stress can increase cortisol levels, which cause sleep disturbances. Avoid work emails or challenging reading in the time after dinner and before bed.

Establish Good Sleeping Habits

Start your day by getting enough natural light, which helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Open your curtains first thing in the morning, and take frequent breaks throughout the day to go outside and get some sunlight.

Next, if it’s not already, make exercise a part of your daily routine. Done at the proper time of day, vigorous exercise can improve your sleep quality. However, exercise has a stimulating effect on the body by releasing chemicals (like cortisol and endorphins) that contribute to difficulty falling asleep and disturbed sleep; try to finish your exercise at least three hours before bed to give your body time to flush those chemicals out.

Creating a bedtime routine- and sticking to it- can minimize stress and prime your body for falling asleep. That might mean taking a bath, meditating, reading, or any number of relaxing things. Having a consistent routine will help you fall into a deep sleep more quickly. However, if you aren’t tired, don’t stay in bed forcing yourself to try and fall asleep; this can actually have a negative effect on your sleep by triggering stress hormones.

Finally, avoid eating right before bed, since digestion might keep you awake. If you absolutely need a snack, aim for fruit; cherries are especially good, since they contain melatonin.

As any teenager can tell you, sleeping is a skill, and with enough practice, you can improve your sleep quality to make the most out of your non-wakeful hours. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even be able to cut down to one cup of coffee in the morning.