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15 Tips for getting sound sleep and waking refreshed

By PennsylvaniaHealth.com writers. Not doctor reviewed. Read disclaimer.

If you've spent any time researching fatigue or sleep issues, you're probably aware of how the lifestyle choices we make during the day can affect our sleep quality at night. The question is, do you make those practices part of your daily routine?

Most adults need 6-9 hours of sleep per night; if you're in the  40% of Americans who are not getting enough, try these tips for a more peaceful, refreshing sleep.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule
    Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This can help reinforce your body's sleep-wake cycle.
  • The bed should be used only for sleep and sex
    Avoid eating, doing work, watching TV or using the computer in bed. In this way, your mind is trained to associate the bed with sleep.
  • Exercise early in the day
    Exercise can help you get a better night's sleep, but if you exercise within 4-5 hours of bedtime, you might be too "pumped up" to fall asleep.
  • Get at least 20 minutes of bright sunlight each day.
  • Create an evening, wind-down ritual
    Engage in relaxing activity for a few minutes before going to bed. This will signal your body that it's time to wind down. This can include listening to soft music, reading or taking a warm bath. Other options may include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, self-hypnosis, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, biofeedback or similar mind/body therapy approaches.

    Not only can a wam bath (which, by the way, is the most commonly mentioned, non-pharmacological sleep aid in Japan) help us to relax, it also increases our body temperature slightly. As we cool back to normal, this simulates how our body temperature naturally drops when falling asleep. And this cooling action may actually help induce sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
    Alcohol, even a small amount as much as 6 hours before bedtime can disrupt the sequence and duration of natural sleep states. In addition, as your blood alcohol level drops, there is a stimulant effect. And speaking of stimulants, caffeine (in the form of coffee, sodas, chocolate, tea, etc.) and nicotine can make it difficult to fall asleep. Caffeine can take up to eight hours to wear off and nicotine withdrawal often wakes smokers early.
  • Don't take naps after 3 pm.
    Research shows that a nap early in the day before 1 pm can help pick you up without ruining your sleep that night. However, it is very important to limit your nap to 35 minutes as you do not want to go into REM sleep. If you go into REM sleep you will wake up feeling tired after a short nap.
  • Wear an eye mask or install room darkening shades in the bedroom
    A totally dark room is more conducive to a deeper sleep than one with even a small amount of light coming into it. If you cannot block out sun with sunshades, consider using an eye mask.
  • Try a "white noise" machine for drowning out traffic, television or other background noises.
    Other ways to cover disrupting noises are with earplugs, running a fan or turning a radio to low volume between stations.
  • Go shopping for a new pillow
    Once you have a pillow that's comfortable for you, don't underestimate the sedating effect a crisp clean pillow case can have. One last tip: try sprinkling a few drops of lavender essential oil on the pillowcase. This fragrance has a well-deserved reputation for calming.
  • Stop the snoring -- both yours and your sleep partner's
    If someone in your family chronically snores loudly, it could be due to a serious condition called sleep apnea. Even if this is ruled out, however, snoring should not be ignored. People who snore are at a greater risk of daytime fatigue, poor mental focus and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. And if you're not snoring but your sleep partner is, you probably know how disturbing their snoring can be to your sleep, as well.
  • Keep pets out of the bed
    Even if Fido or fluffy hardly move all night, they crowd the bed and make it harder to move your legs and arms while you sleep.
  • Avoid eating big meals or drinking lots of fluids within a few hours of bedtime.
    Eating a late, large meal can make it more difficult to stay asleep. Avoid spicy or sugary foods but reach for turkey or dairy products (which contain tryptophan) and a slice of bread (which provides carbohydrates for relaxation). And by limiting fluids before bedtime, you have less of a chance of waking in the middle of the night, having to go to the bathroom.
  • Be careful with sleep medications
    Almost all prescribed sleep medications come with warnings of side effects. In fact, some health experts feel that many sleep medications don't even give you a good night sleep -- they just trick your brain into thinking you slept. If you and your doctor feel that sleep medication is needed, find one that does not cause a "hangover"effect in the morning.
  • Consider one of the more popular, sedating herbs or supplements.
    Health food stores carry a selection of herbal products and dietary supplements believed to promote sleep. A few of the most common are chamomile tea, valerian, melatonin, chamomile tea and the amino acid L-tryptophan.
  • Get in the habit of preparing a to-do list the night before -- and then let go of your worries and anxious thoughts.
    By having a definite to-do list for the following day, allowing your mind to release thoughts.
  • Don't oversleep
    Too much sleep can actually cause you to be more tired.
  • Position a "light box" next to your bed and flip it on 20 minutes before you have to get up.
    Though not cheap ($200-$400), a light box mimics natural sunlight. It is best to have the light box within a couple feet of your head and, if possible, keep your eyes open -- though you should not be looking directly into the light.

If you spend the right amount of time in bed but you regularly wake up tired or get sleepy during the day, you may have a sleeping disorder. Consult with your health care provider if you continue to have trouble sleeping. To learn more online, two wonderful resources are:

http://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn16/docs/Sleep_Therapy_Group_Therapist_Manual.pdf
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf

Love your sleep; your heart health may depend on it.

Did you know that sleep quality -- whether it's good or bad -- affects your heart health? That's because, while you sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure dip, which helps promote cardiovascular health.

sleeps effect on heart healthLack of sleep can trigger the release of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones during the day, which keep your blood pressure from dipping during the night. This can increase your risk for heart disease. Plus, lack of sleep can trigger the release of proteins thought to play a role in heart disease, including C-Reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation. High levels of CRP may increase the risk of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries.

Need more reasons to take sleep seriously? A chronic lack of sleep has been associated with suppressed immunity, insulin resistance (a factor that can increase your risk of diabetes), elevated blood sugar levels (which can contribute to weight gain and depression) and, obviously, it increases your chances of injury from accidents as a result of fatigue.

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Marty B
February 19, 2012
Rather than buying a white noise machine, there is a free app for iphone and android that plays continuous relaxing melodies (mostly nature but, hey! they even have a laundry dryer. And, of course, there is the white noise channel.). The app is called Relax Melodies and their website is http://ipnossoft.com
rosie
August 29, 2012
Taking just a tiny amount of melatonin (1 mg) a couple hours before bedtime sure seems to work for me. And, like you said, stay away from the computer or tv before bedtime since the light they give off can disrupt your brain's natural melatonin production.
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