You know that not sleeping well can make you cranky, but did you know that a good night’s sleep can protect your health too? Poor sleep can contribute to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stress, depression, and anxiety. It has also been linked to an increased risk of accidents.
What’s the link between sleep and health? As you sleep, your body repairs itself. If you’re coming down with an infection, for example, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines while you sleep. These proteins fight infection and regulate deeper sleep. The more sleep you get when you’re sick, and the deeper that sleep is, the better you’ll be able to fight the infection.
So how do you get a good night’s sleep? It takes a little TLC — timing, limits, and comfort.
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Create a bedtime routine — read, take a warm bath, play restful music, or do gentle stretches. A nightly routine lets your mind know that it’s time to wind down.
- If you’re a napper, try to keep naps to 30 minutes, and don’t nap late in the day.
- Exercise can improve sleep, but if it energizes you, keep late-afternoon or evening workouts to a slower pace.
- Instead of eating a big meal in the evening, make lunch your main meal. You’ll have more time to digest it before bed. Cutting down on spicy foods can help prevent heartburn, which can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.
- Drink less fluid before bedtime, especially if you wake up often to go to the bathroom. Warm milk or herbal tea in the early evening may help you relax though.
- You probably know to avoid coffee, but don’t forget that chocolate and even coffee ice cream contain caffeine, as do some teas and sodas.
- Remember that nicotine is a stimulant. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep.
- Research indicates that too much screen time close to bedtime can stimulate the brain. Stick with a book or magazine. Use low-wattage bulbs in the bedroom, and block light from windows and electrical devices such as clocks and cell phones.
- If you have to get up at night to use the bathroom, using a low-wattage lamp or a nightlight instead of bright lights will make it easier to go back to sleep.
- Create a comfortable sleeping space. Do you need a pitch-dark room and no noise, or is the whirr of a fan reassuring? What’s the best temperature for you? Make sure your bedroom meets your needs.
- Is your mattress or pillow keeping you up at night? One sign that they might be: You wake up feeling more refreshed after a night in a hotel or while visiting others than you do in your own bed.
- If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, don’t toss and turn in bed. Get up and read a book or listen to music until you feel tired. Avoid reading on a phone or tablet or watching TV though — blue light from these devices can interfere with sleep.
- Find ways to manage stress. Taking care of yourself and making time to relax can help to put your mind at ease.
If after trying these tips for 2 weeks, you’re still not sleeping well, consult your doctor for other options.