Besides eating healthy foods and exercising, a good night’s sleep is vital to maintain your overall health. Research has shown that insufficient sleep or poor-quality sleep is related to high blood pressure, cardiovascular plaque buildup, and increased cholesterol levels. So how do you ensure you’re getting a good night’s sleep? A few simple suggestions:
Spend More Time in Daylight
Your circadian rhythm (your body’s natural time-keeping clock) affects your brain, body, and hormones. This rhythm helps you stay awake and tells your body when it’s time to sleep. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight (with proper SPF protection) or bright light during the day can keep your circadian rhythm on track. This boosts your daytime energy, but it also helps nighttime sleep quality and duration.
Cut Down on Blue Light in the Evening
Nighttime light exposure affects your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into believing it’s still daytime. This cuts down on hormones like melatonin, which can help you relax and enter that deep sleep your body needs. In particular, avoid blue light emitted by smartphones, iPads, laptops, and similar devices. If your work schedule demands you sit in front of these devices at night, wear glasses that block blue light, or install an app that blocks blue light (you can get these for iPhones and Android models). If you’re a binge TV watcher, turn off the set (or any other bright lights) two hours before going to bed.
Avoid Sugar and Caffeine in the Evening
While caffeine (and all those energy drinks) can help you focus, impart energy, and boost your sports performance, if taken in the evening, it stimulates your nervous system and can prevent your body from naturally relaxing at night. Keep in mind that caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6–8 hours. So avoid drinking large amounts of coffee after 4 p.m. If you simply must have coffee at night, drink decaffeinated coffee. And don’t eat a lot of sugar before retiring. Sugar can increase restlessness at night and keep you awake at night. Insulin helps your body break down sugar and convert it to energy when your body needs rest. So you may end up feeling overstimulated and restless due to the excess energy.
Cover Yourself with the Right Blanket
Yes, the right blanket can help you get a good night’s sleep. When it comes to sleep temperature, people seem to sleep best at temperatures between 62 and 70 degrees F. If your ambient temperature falls too low, you’ll wake up from sleep. Of course, overheating your body can also disrupt your sleep. Your core body temperature usually drops within the first four hours of sleep. This temperature drop helps you fall asleep, stay asleep, and cycle through your sleep stages.
If you’re sensitive, your blanket should be non-allergenic. Dust mites, a common allergy and asthma trigger, thrive in blankets and other bedding. When the tiny bugs set off your symptoms, sneezing and wheezing may keep you up at night. If you suffer from allergies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest you avoid down-filled comforters. Wash other blankets once a week in hot (130 degrees F) water and dry in a hot dryer to kill dust mites.
Consider a Weighted Blanket
According to Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H., weighted blankets can help those who are anxious, upset,or have difficulty falling asleep. They can aid in both sleep and relaxation. These special blankets—like those offered by Baloo or Luxome—are filled with weighted pellets or beads, which are sewn into compartments to keep them evenly distributed. “The blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” says Moore. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.” Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer.
In choosing this type of blanket, the best weight will depend on your body size and personal preference. That said, 15 to 30 pounds is typical for adults. “Input from a doctor or occupational therapist is advised for elderly individuals and anyone with a medical condition,” Moore says. She adds that weighted blankets are not for people with respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation issues or those recovering from surgery.
Consider Taking Melatonin
An important sleep hormone, melatonin signals your brain when it’s time to relax and go to bed. Often used to treat insomnia, a melatonin tablet may help you fall asleep faster. One study found that taking 2 mg of melatonin at bedtime helped people fall asleep faster and improved sleep quality and energy the next day. Since melatonin may alter brain chemistry, check with your doctor or healthcare provider before use.