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Countdown to a Good Night’s Sleep

With the busyness of life, it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel rested and to get the proper quality of sleep. While you might not be able to avoid your late nights at the office, here are some activities that you do have control over which could greatly improve your quality of sleep. Engaging in practices that promote a better night’s sleep is called “sleep hygiene” and it can make you more alert and productive during the day. Here is a countdown of activities you should engage in and avoid before you hit the sack for your best sleep yet.

6 Hours before Bed. Caffeine is a powerful stimulate that you should avoid for at least 6 hours before bed. A study by the Sleep Disorders & Research Center and Wayne State College of Medicine found that caffeine consumed within 6 hours before bed significantly disrupts sleep. The 2013 study found that caffeine consumed 6 hours before bed reduced total nighttime sleep by 1 hour. Caffeine consumed between 6 and 3 hours before bed will additionally increase the time spent awake at night. Once it hits late-afternoon, try switching to decaffeinated beverages and steer clear of caffeine-laden foods such as chocolate.

3 Hours before Bed. Certain activities cause your body to produce hormones that make you feel alert. For the optimum levels of hormones to fall asleep with ease, avoid heavy exercise, eating, and using any electronic devices that emit blue light (including your cellphone, computer, or TV) within 3 hours before going to bed.

1 Hour before Bed. Engaging in relaxing activities such as reading, yoga, meditation, or listening to calm music will help relax your mind so you are in the mood to sleep the second your head hits the pillow. For a natural sleep elixir, try drinking tart cherry juice or “nighttime tea” such as chamomile, mint, or lemongrass. A 2014 study by Louisiana State University found that drinking 2 cups of cherry juice a day resulted in an average of 84 more minutes of sleep at night.

In Bed. The number one tip sleep experts recommend is to have a consistent bedtime for yourself— and to stick to it. Going to bed at the same time every day (plus or minus 20 minutes) will help you maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, and you will be priming your body to be tired at the same time every day. Other sleep hygiene tips include keeping your room well-ventilated and at a cool temperature—roughly 20 to 22 °C. Also, if watching the clock increases your anxiety about getting to sleep, try turning the clock face away from you so that you cannot see the time. The anxiety of watching the clock could raise your cortisol levels—a stress hormone that promotes alertness.

After Laying in Bed for 20 Minutes. If your mind races at nighttime and you lay awake for about 20 minutes without falling asleep, try getting up and engaging in a relaxing activity such as reading in a dimly lit room until you feel tired enough to nod off. At that point you can head back to bed and should fall asleep within minutes.

Waking Up in the Morning. Waking up at the same time every day helps to set your internal clock—called a circadian rhythm— that will help prime you for sleep at night. Even for nights when you stay up later— although it may be tempting to hit the snooze button in the morning— waking at your usual hour will promote sleep debt, which will make it easier for you to fall asleep the subsequent night. Also, exposing yourself to natural light by opening the curtains or by walking outside can help keep your body on a healthy sleep-wake cycle and can help you to feel more alert in the morning. Spending your lunchtime outside for a sun break during the day can also help regulate your internal clock.

Naps. Although it may seem counterintuitive, taking naps during the day will not lead to a greater feeling of restfulness overall. In fact, taking a nap might be to blame for your inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. If you want to get in an afternoon or evening rest, the National Sleep Foundation recommends a 20-30 minute nap which will leave you feeling alert without being groggy, allowing you to power through the day without affecting your sleep at night.

If you are looking to optimize your sleep and improve other lifestyle habits like exercise, diet, and stress management, Health Gauge can help. Health Gauge can show how your lifestyle habits are impacting your health and give actionable insight into how to reach your health and wellness goals.

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