Want to be more effective at work, have a stronger immune system, and boost your anti-aging potential? The answer is both simple and complex: sleep more.
The United States has a shocking sleep deficit. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “An estimated 50–70 million US adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder.” Lack of sleep is a risk factor for everything from traffic accidents to cancer and obesity, and it may even play a role in Alzheimer’s. Now for some of us, the problem is simply that we aren’t going to bed early enough to get the seven to nine hours that experts believe most adults need to function properly.
If this is you, the key is to find out what will motivate you, personally, to hit the hay on time. Is it thinking about that delicious feeling of waking up after a solid night of sleep? Is it setting a bedtime alarm to gently remind yourself that it’s time to start moving toward the bedroom? Is it rewarding yourself if you get to bed on time for a whole workweek? Or is it just focusing on the many physical and mental health benefits of getting the sleep your body needs? Every person is motivated by different things, and you may have to do some exploring to find out what works for you.
Many others, however, manage to get to bed in plenty of time to get their eight hours, but are plagued by wakefulness. Some of us have a hard time falling asleep (initial insomnia), while others fall asleep just fine, but wake up in the dead of night, unable to get back to slumberland. And while there are several pharmaceutical solutions to help insomniacs, they can come with side effects, including feeling drowsy the next day and sleep-eating.
There are possible solutions, however, that are natural, effective, and for the most part, inexpensive.
- Evaluate your bedroom. Is it dark enough? Cool enough? Quiet enough? Sometimes a low-tech solution like an eye mask or earplugs can make a big difference. For noisier environments, a white noise machine can bring relief.
- Prep for the morning. Lay out clothes, make lunches, review your to-do list. Getting things like these done before bedtime can stop those obsessive to-do-list thought loops that plague some of us in the middle of the night.
- Get in the mood. Creating a break between the hustle and bustle of the day and bedtime can help the transition. Start preparing for bed an hour or so in advance. Put aside all electronics (yes, even your cell phone—screens are linked to insomnia). Try a warm bath—as your body cools down afterward, drowsiness kicks in.
- End on a positive note. Before going to sleep, grab your gratitude journal (or start one) and jot down two or three things you’re grateful for. Feelings of gratitude lower your stress levels, and stress has been shown to contribute to insomnia.
- Seek out scents. Aromas can have a surprisingly significant effect on your brain. Lavender has long been valued for its sleep-inducing properties, and some research has begun to back up its use in this realm. Fill a sachet with dried lavender and keep it near your bed, or apply a bit of lavender oil to your pillow before bedtime. Other relaxing scents include vanilla and jasmine.
- Seek help. If home remedies and good sleep habits still aren’t bringing restful sleep, it may be time to consult a doctor. There may be physiological reasons that you aren’t sleeping well. According to Stanford University sleep researcher William C. Dement, 30 million Americans suffer from chronic obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which you struggle to breathe in the night and never really get into the deep restorative sleep we all need. Excess weight can play a role in its development, but it can affect anyone, no matter your size or shape.
- Try acupuncture. One study found it helped participants sleep just as much or more than pharmaceutical sleep aids.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter. She is a certified health coach and personal trainer.