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Home Health Looking Good SLEEP: there’s a reason we call it ‘‘ beauty rest’’

SLEEP: there’s a reason we call it ‘‘ beauty rest’’

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Sleep is important to our daily lives...after all, we spend a third of our life asleep. So our sleeping habits are naturally going to affect our health and happiness. Haven’t you ever noticed dark circles under your eyes after a late night? That’s because our bodies need sleep to perform many of the vital, regenerative functions we have come to take for granted; sleep is vital to our health and well-being.

The following tips, created by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), can help you get into a regular sleep pattern, which will ensure you’re body is running at peak performance.

1. Maintain a regular sleep schedule (including weekends).

Though the temptation to sleep in on Saturday and Sunday is there, try and resist developing this habit.

According to the NSF, “Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a ‘circadian clock’ in our brain and the body’s need to balance both sleep time and wake time. A regular waking time in the morning strengthens the circadian function and can help with sleep onset at night. That is why it is important to keep a regular bedtime and wake-time.” By sleeping in (too) late on the weekends, we’re throwing off that internal clock.

2. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.

Try taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to relaxing music before bed. It helps exponentially when trying to wind down for the evening and can help get your body ready for sleep. Try to avoid bright lights, loud noises, or other activities that over-stimulate so close to bedtime. These stimuli impede quality sleep because excitement, stress, or anxiety can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep, or remain asleep. Avoid arousing activities before bedtime like working, paying bills, engaging in competitive games, or family problem-solving.

3. Create a sleep-conducive environment.

You want your bedroom to be the perfect environment for a sound sleep. The NSF recommends you “design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep—cool, quiet, dark, comfortable, and free of interruptions.” If you need suggestions for making your room more sleeper-friendly, consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise,” humidifiers, fans, and other devices.

4. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow.

No-brainer! Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. You can’t get a good night’s rest on a shoddy mattress. Most mattresses tend to have about a 10-year life to them, depending on their quality. Have comfortable pillows and bedding but also make sure they’re free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night. These are just simple techniques that can ensure peace of mind.

5. Use your bedroom only for sleep.

“It is best to take work materials, computers, and televisions out of the sleeping environment,” says the NSF. “Use your bed only for sleep[...] to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine. For example, if looking at a bedroom clock makes you anxious about how much time you have before you must get up, move the clock out of sight.” In other words, stay out of the bedroom unless you’re ready to hit the hay.

6. Finish eating and drinking at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime.

A full stomach is bad for bedtime. Eating or drinking too much may make you less comfortable when settling down for bed. Think about it, your body is still trying to digest something, not relaxing and ready for dozing. It is best to avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime. Also, spicy foods may cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty falling asleep and discomfort during the night. Try to restrict fluids close to bedtime to prevent nighttime awakenings to go to the bathroom, though some people find milk or herbal, non-caffeinated teas to be soothing and a helpful part of a bedtime routine.

7. Exercise regularly.

The NSF is adamant about this. “It is best to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime. In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. However, exercising sporadically or right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult. In addition to making us more alert, our body temperature rises during exercise, and takes as much as six hours to begin to drop. A cooler body temperature is associated with sleep onset.”

So try and finish that workout at least three hours before you’re ready for bed.

8. Avoid nicotine (e.g. cigarettes, tobacco products).

Used close to bedtime, nicotine can lead to poor sleep. Nicotine is also a stimulant. Smoking before bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. When smokers go to sleep, they experience withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, which also cause sleep problems. Nicotine can cause difficulty falling asleep, problems waking in the morning, and may also cause nightmares. Difficulty sleeping is just one more reason to quit smoking. And never smoke in bed or when sleepy!

These are some very important tips for helping you get into not only a regular sleep pattern, but to stay in one. The benefits to your health are astronomical when you make sure to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Not only will you be feeling energized, but you’ll be looking great, too. Source: Sleepfoundation.org

Article appeared in our 26-4 Issue - October 2009