According to the CDC, sleep insufficiency is a growing public health concern. Not getting quality nighttime rest has been linked to motor vehicle accidents, lower productivity in the workplace and many chronic diseases like obesity, depression and hypertension.
There are many factors that can interfere with our sleep patterns. Demanding jobs and the hectic pace of our technology-driven world play a role. Likewise, poor nutritional choices and natural disorders such as sleep apnea are factors too.
Overall, it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping on a regular basis. With that in mind, what can you do to ensure you get your 40 winks each night?
1. Nowadays, you can tap the power of technology to analyze your sleeping habits. Apps you can download on your Smartphone or personal device — like SleepBot, Pillow and Pzizz – can track your nocturnal routines the same way fitness apps provide feedback on your exercise activities. Typical features include motion sensors, sleep pattern analysis, ambient music and guided meditation exercises.
2. Limit sugar intake. A University of California study found that elevated glucose levels are correlated with poor sleep. Another study found that men with sleeping disorders were at a higher risk for diabetes. Sugary foods undoubtedly provide a short-term energy boost, but if you want to get a good night’s sleep, then you’ll probably want to avoid sweet foods at least a few hours before bed.
3. Go for complex carbs. A little peanut butter on whole wheat crackers or a small serving of pasta with veggies can stimulate the production of tryptophan, an amino acid which will help you relax.
4. A hot cup of chamomile or peppermint tea can help soothe your mind and stomach respectively. For instance, one clinical study concluded that chamomile tea can help reduce anxiety. And researchers at Tuft’s University found that peppermint tea aided digestion and settled the stomach, which can help you sleep.
5. Get your B vitamins to get your ZZZs. Studies indicate that foods rich in B vitamins can help the body turn tryptophan into the sleep-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin. Non-processed turkey meat is near the top of the list in terms foods with a narcoleptic effect.
6. Turmeric milk has been a staple of Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Just add a pinch of turmeric to a cup of warm milk before bedtime. Studies show that turmeric can help fight inflammation, detoxify the liver and improve circulation too.
7. Sex can help you sleep better according to the Journal of Women’s Health. The science is simple – sexual activity stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding with your partner and helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
8. Moms sing lullabies to encourage their children to sleep, so, it’s no surprise that listening to music before bedtime can help you doze off. As you might expect, studies suggest that slower tempo songs are the most soothing. In particular, instrumental music with about 60 beats per minute appears to prime the body into a resting state where, incidentally, the heart rate slows to 60 beats a minute as well.
9. White noise machines have gained in popularity as sleep aids in recent years. It may seem counterintuitive to add ambient noise to your environment to help you gain a little shut-eye. However, these devices work by “masking” annoying sounds – like your partner snoring — or sudden noises, which might cause you to otherwise stir.
10. According to the National Sleep Foundation, moderate exercise can help many people with chronic insomnia. Surprisingly, the exact reason exercise seems to help is unknown, but researchers speculate that physical activity reduces stress and anxiety, which can manifest as depression. Interestingly, moderate exercise is correlated with better sleep, but extremely vigorous exercise did not help insomniacs.
11. Marijuana is renowned for inducing the munchies — but sleep? As it turns out, the cannabinoids in pot mimic natural chemicals the brain manufactures, which play a role in sleep. In fact, studies show that a little weed improves deep sleep and reduces sleep apnea. However, marijuana also reduces the amount of REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming. Scientists are uncertain about the implications of this last finding. Experts note that low doses improve sleep best, while large amounts of THC can lead to increased feelings of drowsiness the next day.
12. “Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep” goes a familiar quote. However, alcohol appears to have a paradoxical effect on sleep. In fact, studies show that imbibing small amounts before bed can reduce the amount of time it takes to nod off. On the other hand, excess quantities do interfere with the quality of sleep by increasing both alpha and delta brainwave activity, which leads to less restorative forms of slumber. No wonder a little too much to drink the night before can leave you groggy and grouchy the next day.
13. Stay away from fatty and highly processed foods. Their glucose-spiking effect can make you drowsy during the day, but they are linked to increased levels of hypocretin, a chemical believed to disrupt sleep.
14. Most people think oatmeal is for breakfast, but a small bowl could make for the ultimate midnight snack. That’s because oats are rich in a substance called melatonin, which helps regulate sleep.