WORK-LIFE BALANCE / NOV. 02, 2014
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8 Tips for a Better Night's Sleep During the Working Week

As we get older and life gets busier, it sometimes seems like there’s a universal conspiracy to deprive us of sleep. Whether it’s work, chores and errands, raising kids, caring for aging parents, worrying about the stock market and the national debt – or all of the above – there can be times when it seems like getting enough sleep is an impossible dream (get it?). But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are some simple changes you can make that can drastically improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep.

 

  1. Take a cue from the little ones

    If you have young children, you know how important it is to stick to a routine. When they’re still too young for their minds to overrule their bodies, establishing a routine helps their bodies get used to doing the same thing at the same time every day. For adults, it’s not so much that our bodies have stopped giving us cues as that we’ve stopped paying attention. If you can get into a routine – going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends) – your body will get used to it and fall into a natural rhythm. And if the pattern you’re trying to establish isn’t the right one for you, your body will let you know that, too, by causing you to fall asleep over dinner or to wake up an hour earlier than you need to. At that point, it’s easy to adjust.
  2. Have a bedtime routine

    This is another case where the kids have it right. You may not need your mom to tuck you into bed with a story, but doing the same thing before going to bed can have a Pavlovian effect: You’re training your body to think, “When we do this, I get sleepy.”
  3. Watch what you eat…

    Going to bed either hungry or overly stuffed can result in a restless night. If you’re hungry at bedtime, it’s OK to have a small snack, just make sure it’s the right one. Cherries, for instance, are one of the only foods that contain natural melatonin. Just don’t have them on top of an ice cream sundae, or the sugar will keep you up all night! Bananas are great because they contain the natural muscle relaxers magnesium and potassium. Complex carbohydrates – like a fortified cereal – are another good nighttime snack.
  4. …and drink

    Caffeine is a stimulant, and its effects can take hours to wear off. If you can’t completely give up soda or coffee after lunch, switching to decaf can go a long way toward curing your insomnia. And then there’s alcohol. It may be great for helping you go to sleep, but it’s not so good at helping you stay asleep. Alcohol not only causes you to wake up during the night, it reduces the quality of any sleep you do get. Milk, on the other hand, is a great bedtime drink. Milk contains tryptophan, the same soporific that makes you want to curl up and take a nap after eating turkey. And if it brings back memories of a cozy childhood, so much the better.
  5. Get your light right

    Primitive as it may sound in this technological age, our bodies are designed to be in sync with the sun. Daylight causes a drop in the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. With sunset comes an increase in melatonin as our bodies prepare us for bed. A lack of natural light and an excess of artificial light can get our bodies out of whack. The more time you spend outside, the better. When you can’t be outside, make it a point to let in as much outside, natural light as you can.
  6. Get physical

    Another benefit of getting outside is exercise. Even mild exercise improves sleep, helping you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply. But be aware that exercising at night revs some people up and makes it more difficult for them to go to sleep. If that applies to you, exercise earlier in the day.
  7. Stop the stimulants

    Another way of improving sleep is to stop using things like phones and computers early in the evening. The bright lights tell your body it’s time to wake up and be active. So do loud noises from TV sets and stereos. Try to make the hour or two before bed calm and relaxing rather than filled with light and noise.
  8. Set the stage

    The place you sleep should be cool, quiet, and dark. If you can’t fall asleep in silence, try some white noise. That’s a better option than TV or radio, both of which can cause wakefulness. And, if you like to read in bed, make sure it’s something that isn’t backlit, like a good old-fashioned book or an e-reader that you need a light source to use.

 

You might not be able to do much about the demands on your time, but there are things you can do to make sure that the sleep you get is of the highest quality. Give these tips a try, and you may soon find you’re sleeping more soundly than you ever have.

 

image: freeimages via sunchasers

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