About 75% of Americans suffer from sleep disorders a few of times a week, according to Dr. James Maas, Ph.d. sleep expert and author of Power Sleep. This lack of rest does more than leave people groggy–it increases their risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart attack.
In addition, a 2011 study funded by the National Institutes of Health reveals that folks who get more rest are better at learning and retaining information, while similar research performed by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley suggests more sleep seems to diminish the emotional impact of painful memories.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, aka, The Sleep Doctor, told WebMD, “Whether you’re prepping for a test, starting a new job, coping with difficult circumstances, or just want to feel more agile of mind, the prescription is the same: get some sleep!”
Great. But how can we get from point A to point ZZZZs when counting sheep isn’t working?
Unless difficulty sleeping stems from medical concerns (which should be addressed by a professional), the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research suggests the following seven tips:
1. Scheduled Lights Out
The Mayo Clinic staff advises sticking to a schedule: Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. This will help train your body and promote better sleep. They warn, however, if you still haven’t fallen asleep after 15 minutes, get up, do something relaxing (reading, stretching), and go back to bed when you are tired.
2. Avoid Over-Eating/Under-Eating at Bedtime
According to Mayo Clinic experts, you should also avoid feeling either stuffed or starving when it comes time for bed. In addition, they warn against using nicotine or caffeine too close to lights out. “The stimulating effects…can take hours to wear off…and can wreak havoc with quality sleep.”
3. Rest-Full Routine
Mayo’s sleep-meisters also recommend, “Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down.” Similar to reading a child a bedtime story after brushing teeth and giving a kiss goodnight, adults need a ritual too. Think: warm shower or bath, reading a book or listening to music. The Mayo Clinic staff advise against using electronics as part of the ritual, however, since, “Some research suggests that screen time or other multi-media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.” Power down. Unplug. Chill out.
4. Create A Nighttime Retreat
Setting the stage for a good night’s sleep means creating an environment experts describe as, “cool, dark and quiet” — as well as comfortable. There are many clever ways to achieve conducive sleeping conditions — and if this is what’s between you and your beauty sleep, remedies abound.
Quick fixes include: room darkening shades, ear plugs, a sleep mask and even fans that cool the room, circulate air and create white noise.
Depending on your issues, the Brookstone Tranquil Moments Advanced Sleep Sound System might be worth considering as well. The device boasts “‘soothing sound programs based on Delta, Alpha or Theta brainwave frequencies” designed to coax your mind into entering a state of relaxation and deep sleep. In fact, they are so confident the device will work, it can also function as an alarm clock.
Obviously, pillow choice and the bed itself contribute mightily to whether or not you will get a good night’s sleep. The Mayo Clinic says, “Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you.”
If your sleeping situation is less than perfect, you might consider a mattress pad and/or foam mattress topper to achieve the cloud-like softness or firmness you like best.
Pillow choice is incredibly personal, but Dr. Maas (who designs his own line of Sleep For Success! pillows) recommends, “The right support is medium firm and not too thick. It keeps your head and neck in a line, as if you were standing up.”
5. Just Say No to Numerous Naps!
While many tout the restorative effect of a power nap, the folks at the Mayo Clinic caution that, “Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep — especially if you’re struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night.” If you must, limit yourself to a brief 10- to 30-minute mid-afternoon rest.
6. Get Moving!
Exercise is a cure-all for many ailments — and that includes certain types of sleeplessness. Experts agree, “Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep.” Lace up those walking shoes and get moving!
7. Last, But Not Least: Taming the Stress Monster
Worse than the Boogeyman, stress can creep up at bedtime and result in an evening of tossing and turning. If you’re having trouble switching off your brain, it might be time to restore more peace into the waking hours. The Mayo Clinic suggests starting with the basics: “Such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what’s on your mind and set it aside for tomorrow.”
Good night, and good luck.
How about you? Warm milk? Counting Chickens? Share your sleep secret in the comments area.