Sleep. It’s one of the most basic things our bodies need (in addition to food, water, and light), and yet, it’s something that evades many of us. Now, more than ever, a slew of sleep-disrupting circumstances has the power to pummel us every single day—light from computers, late dinners, and working right up until bedtime, just to name a few.
But we might rethink those detrimental activities if we start to consider how deeply they can affect our sleep, and in turn, our overall health. Michael J. Breus, PhD, of The Sleep Doctor, sums it up well, saying, “Sleep is healing. It is the time for both physical and mental restoration.”
Rebecca Robbins, PhD, research fellow at the NYU School of Medicine, agrees. “Sleep is food for the brain and body,” she says. “During sleep, our brain goes through complex stages of rest, and then activity. We are seeing sleep every night potentially play an important role in reducing our risk for chronic and life-threatening conditions, as well as neurocognitive decline later in life.”
And Janet K. Kennedy, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, believes in the recuperative effects of sleep. “The body and mind repair the day’s damage during sleep,” she says. “Chronic sleep deprivation affects a broad range of functioning including learning and memory, immunity and resistance to infection, response times, concentration, insulin resistance, weight gain, and mood.”
These health issues should be motivation enough to commit to good sleep, but if you need an extra oomph, doesn’t the idea of energised, exhaustion-free days appeal to you? Whatever your reason might be, quality sleep can be yours, starting from the moment you wake up to when you lay your head down on your pillow at night. Our experts will take you through a day that can help promote your best night’s sleep yet.
It can be difficult to grasp the idea that a good night’s sleep starts the minute you hit your morning alarm, but it’s true. “Get up at the same time daily,” says Kennedy. “This sets the body’s clock and helps us feel more energised—and less prone to behaviors that undermine sleep, like overdoing caffeine intake.”
Breus suggests setting a scheduled wake-up time (yes, that includes weekends), which means you can’t push your beloved snooze button over and over.
“Snoozing tends to make us groggier,” adds Kennedy. “It also disrupts the body clock if done to excess and can lead to difficulty falling asleep the next night.”
Instead of trying to catch those few extra ZZZ’s, Breus recommends starting your day with five minutes of calming meditation.
During your first hour of the day, Breus believes that it’s key to drink water. He says, “Drink 400 to 500ml of water and walk over to the window to get 15 minutes of sunlight.”
In fact, exposure to sunlight is vital when you first wake up. Robbins says, “Natural sunlight is important. If you’re fortunate to live in a naturally bright place, try to walk or exercise outside as soon as you wake up. This can kick-start the awake phase of your circadian rhythm.” Kennedy also says that light provides a signal to the brain to shut down melatonin production and boost alertness.
Exercise is best spent in sunlight, but whether it’s indoors or outdoors, it’s a key component of good sleep. Breus suggests 20 to 60 minutes of exercise every day, and Robbins says, “People who regularly exercise stand to benefit from reduced inflammation, and overall improved general health. Regular exercisers also report better sleep quality than non-regular exercisers.”
When you sit down to your desk first thing in the morning, your next move might be to pour yourself a cup of coffee. Coffee could be a part of your natural routine, but if you’ve woken up within the last couple hours, you might want to rethink that caffeine fix. Caffeine can prevent your body from waking up naturally, so Breus says, “Do not drink coffee until 90 minutes after you get up.”
If you couldn’t score that burst of morning sunlight or if it’s cloudy where you are, Robbins says that you should give some thought to light therapy devices while you work. “These are readily available, and can be worn as glasses or can be found in small handheld devices that emit bright light that has a similar effect as the sun,” she says. Morning is the best time to use these devices—using them in the afternoon can disturb sleep.
If you’re at home or if you happen to have one of those sleep pods at work, you might be thinking about taking a nap to combat your afternoon slump. “Nap carefully,” Kennedy says. “Short naps of 20 to 30 minutes are unlikely to disrupt the body’s sleep clock, but long naps can be hard to wake up from and can subtract sleep from your nights.” Just be sure to set an alarm before taking that midday snooze.
It feels pretty good to sit down on the couch with a plate of spaghetti after a long workday, but you might want to think twice before chowing down. “Keep dinner light,” Robbins says. “Try to finish eating at least two hours before bedtime so your body can properly digest.”
Kennedy has similar advice: “Eat healthy, especially at night. Eating heavy meals late at night can compromise sleep quality.”
Kennedy says that it’s crucial to unplug at night. “At least one hour before bed, put the computer and handheld screens away. Keep your phone, laptop, and tablet out of the bedroom.” Screens emit blue light, something that can throw off the brain’s melatonin production.
In the hour before going to sleep, focus on following a nightly bedtime routine. “Use this time to meditate, read a book, take a bath or shower, and put on your face creams,” Robbins says. “Consider this time for you to ease out of the day and prepare for restful slumber.”
For a satisfying transition into sleep, “read a fiction book until you can’t stay awake,” Kennedy says. “Reading is a great sleep association and it occupies your mind away from the stress of the day while your body’s fatigue takes over.”
At this time, you can also turn down the temperature in your house a few degrees. “A cool body temperature is associated with sleep quality,” says Robbins.
You’ve made it! Now it’s time to hit those sheets, hopefully at the same time each and every night. “The main thing is keeping a regular sleep schedule,” says Breus. “I go to bed every night by midnight and I’m up at 6:30 a.m.” He says to turn the lights out as close to your scheduled bedtime as possible.
It can be difficult for us as adults to think about sticking to a “bedtime,” but it turns out Mum was right when she shut off the lights, tucked us in, and said, “Time for bed.”
This article originally appeared on Prevention
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