Do you stay up late and skimp on sleep? Or do you head to bed at a decent hour? Your sleep habits can have an impact on your health.
The great sleep experiment
Ever hear about Randy Gardner’s sleep experiment? More than 50 years ago, he dreamed up an epic plan to win a high-school science fair.
The plan…stay awake for 11 days (264 hours), and document the process. He actually did it, won the science fair, and set a world record that’s never been broken.
But don’t try it, you need your Zzzs.
The dark side of poor sleep habits
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for best health.
But about 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that’s a problem.
Research shows poor sleep can have a negative impact on brain function, decision-making skills, mood, and productivity (Ever felt like taking a nap at your desk?).
Poor sleep habits can also increase the risk for:
- Heart disease
- Early death
So what can you do to get your Zzzs and improve your health?
8 sleep strategies for a good night’s rest
If you want to improve your sleep habits and protect your health, here are some things to avoid and things you can do.
- Exercise earlier
Know what keeps a lot of people awake at night? Stress. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve your health. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. You’ll get to sleep faster, and sleep better. Just don’t exercise right before bed.
- Make an appointment
It might sound silly, but put sleep on your calendar. Treat it just like an important appointment. Aim to go to sleep at the same time every night, even on weekends.
- Set up your room for sleep
How’s the room you sleep in? Lit up with electronics, light, or too much noise? Or maybe it’s too hot. Set your room up to promote sleep. Make it dark, comfortable and quiet, and eliminate distractions.
- Create a bedtime routine
If you read #2, you’ve already got bedtime on your daily schedule. But that’s not enough. Now you need to create a bedtime routine. Pick a sequence of activities that help you wind down, relax, and let your brain know it’s time to sleep. For example:
- Take a warm bath
- Read a paperback book or magazine
- Listen to soothing music
- Get some sun
You might not see the sun in the middle of winter, depending on where live. But whenever possible, try to get outside for at least 30 minutes a day. Exposure to sunlight helps boost melatonin levels in the brain that help promote sleep.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day
If you’ve ever chugged a caffeinated drink to battle late-afternoon grogginess, you’re not alone. But it’s not a good practice to promote sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it can take 6 to 8 hours to wear off, keeping you awake when you should be headed to dreamland.
- Avoid alcohol
You might feel relaxed and drowsy after having a drink. But it doesn’t last. Alcohol can interfere with sleep. It can prevent quality sleep during the REM cycle. Or after having a drink and going to bed, you may wake up and be unable to go back to sleep.
- Say goodnight to digital devices
At least an hour before bed, shut off all digital devices. TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. The light from screens and digital devices keeps your brain active, preventing you from falling asleep.
If you’re trying to adopt healthy sleep habits, but you’re still having trouble getting your Zzzs, talk to your doctor. Some medications and health conditions can interfere with sleep.
It’s OK to stay up late now and then to do things like finish a project, watch a movie, attend an event, or spend time with family and friends. But if lack of sleep is a regular thing, you could be putting your health at risk. You need your Zzzs.
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