How You’re Ruining Your Own Chances of a Good Night’s Sleep

Aly Walansky
woman sleeping

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Many of us don’t give rest the respect it deserves — “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” we joke, making it our way of life. Putting sleep last on our priority list however, can mess with our health and well-being.  Sleep helps our immune system, reduces stress, can help prevent weight gain, and generally puts us in a better mood. Plus, we can’t forget about a little thing known as beauty sleep. It’s important! To help you get the best sleep possible, we talked to some experts about ways to improve our sleeping habits.

Stop thinking you don’t need to sleep: We view sleep as a disposable commodity, easy to replace with late-night TV, chatting online, or an endless school nights out with friends. “Until we better appreciate the need for sleep we will continue to undervalue its health-imparting benefits,” says Dr. Michael Decker, who is board certified by the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

We also ruin our chance for good sleep by undervaluing our bedrooms: Many of us sleep on mattresses that are over 10 years old, with worn-out springs and degrading cushions. “We spend many hours per night in our bed, yet, we tend to buy sturdier (and more expensive) living room sofas!” says Dr. Decker. By buying lower grade, less comfortable bedding, we end up with lower grade, poorer quality sleep.

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Support your spine: Supporting your back while you sleep is essential to getting your required rest. “Some suggest the best mattress to help reduce back pain is a medium-firm mattress. Regardless of what type of mattress you choose, make sure you are comfortable in your sleep position,” says Dr. Michael Perry, M.D, medical director of Laser Spine Institute.

Sleep in total darkness: Turn off all of the lights when it is time to go to bed. Cover the glow from alarm clocks and anything else in your room that will emit light and remove night lights. “The pineal gland, which makes melatonin and seratonin, is very sensitive. Even the tiniest bit of light will disrupt your body’s natural melatonin production,” says Dr. Rawle Shewprashad.

Turn down the thermostat: The latest research shows that your body will fall asleep easier and stay asleep in cooler temperatures. “Try between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Shewprashad.

 Ditch the clock in the bedroom.
“When you wake up in the night and see the time it immediately kick starts your brain – your math center lights up, all your processors go into overdrive and you can’t easily turn it off,” says Paula Stephens, an adjunct professor of Exercise Science with a masters degree in Exercise Physiology. Either turn the clock around or get rid of it completely. If you use your phone as an alarm put it far enough away from the bed that you can’t just roll over and look at it.

Moisturize: Beauty sleep isn’t just about getting sleep — it’s about engaging in your beauty routine while you sleep. “Using a heavy moisturizing mask before bed can leave skin glowing when you wake up, especially when using heat or AC which can leave skin dry and dull!” says Sam Prochazka, the CEO and co-Founder of Novosbed.com.

Use a silk pillowcase: A silk pillowcase protects the skin against fine lines and prevents hair breakage. Tame frizz and get some shut-eye!

Unplug: “Studies show that using an electronic device before bed can decrease melatonin levels by up to 22%, leading to a restless night’s sleep. Put that iPhone down and get some shut-eye!” says Prochazka.

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You need to prepare for a solid night’s sleep. “The most effective way is to power down an hour before you hit the sack,” says nutritionist JJ Virgin, author of the The Virgin Diet. That “urgent” email from your boss can wait till the morning. Put your iPhone on Do Not Disturb mode and otherwise turn off electronics an hour before bed.

Calm your mind: So you’ve carved out that hour before bed sans electronics. Replace the hour you spent binge watching Netflix with a mind-calming routine. “Meditation, a hypnosis download, a hot bath with chamomile tea and a good (not great) book, or deep breathing. Find what works for you to slowly shut down your mental chatter so you can drift into a solid night’s sleep,” says Virgin.

Limit caffeine: Especially if you’re a slow metabolizer, a mid-afternoon java jolt can leave you jittery before bed. Keep the caffeine to morning hours and switch to decaf green tea by the afternoon.

Try to avoid naps: Especially within 8 hours of bedtime. “If you are desperate, keep it to 20 minutes — max,” says Marie Delcioppo, founder of Lowcountry Vegan.

Stop eating 3 hours before bed: “The 11 p.m. siren call of Ben & Jerrys inevitably crashes your blood sugar (making you an excellent fat storer) and cuts into quality sleep,” says Virgin. If you’re hungry before bed, you didn’t do dinner right. You might be thirsty, too. “A study at the University of Washington found that one glass of water before bed curbed hunger for everyone who tried it!” says Virgin.

If all fails, don’t be afraid to seek help: Trying a melatonin dietary supplement is a good alternative.  “Nature’s Bounty has a bilayer tablet that assists with both types of sleep disorders. Part of the tablet is released immediately to help you fall sleep and the remainder of the tablet slowly releases over time to help keep you asleep,” says Susan Hazels Mitmesser, PhD, Director of Nutrition Research for NBTY.

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