If you feel like you're moving from one long, groggy day to the next, it might be time to re-evaluate your sleep hygiene, a term coined by experts to describe good habits that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. If that just sounds like more work, consider the following laundry list of consequences for too little shut-eye. "Poor sleep is hell on our brains, leading to inadequate waste removal (which can contribute to Alzheimer's), poor cognitive performance, inability to appropriately read others' emotions, even increased risk-taking behavior," sleep specialist W. Christopher Winter, MD, author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, told POPSUGAR.
"Poor sleep makes us want to eat more and eat bad things," he continued. "It also affects digestion, cardiac functioning, hypertension risk, diabetes risk, the immune system, and more." Convincing enough? Keep reading for six tips that can help you transform your sleep habits and finally get the rest you deserve.
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According to the National Sleep Foundation, being exposed to natural light during the day — and being in darkness at night — helps your body maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. (Among other things, natural light plays a role in regulating the sleep hormone melatonin.) Get outside at some point during the day, and keep devices and other sources of light out of your room at night by investing in light-blocking curtains or shades.
Eating until you're stuffed can help you fall asleep, but you might struggle to stay that way. "Heavy protein — which is hard to digest and often metabolized to wake-promoting dopamine — in combination with spicy or fatty foods will give your body way too much to do at night when it should be focused on sleep," said Dr. Winter. Try to eat big meals three to four hours before bed. This will also help prevent acid reflux, which can wake you during the night.
While a 2017 review found that exercise improves sleep quality and duration, working out right before bed may actually cause your sleep to suffer. "Your circadian clock and metabolism are connected. Exercise revs up metabolism, and it can stay elevated for hours, keeping you awake," Mary Ellen Wells, PhD, director and assistant professor of neurodiagnostics and sleep science at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told POPSUGAR. "For this reason, avoid exercise a few hours before bedtime."
You probably know the risks of drinking caffeine in the afternoon, but that glass of wine can also disrupt your sleep. "Alcohol does nothing positive for sleep. It is very important for individuals not to confuse sedation with sleep," Dr. Winter explained. "Alcohol can reduce the deep sleep we get at night and dramatically suppress REM sleep," the dream phase considered to be the most restorative stage of sleep. "Alcohol is also a diuretic," he continued, meaning it can cause you to use the bathroom during the night. And even beyond that, "it increases sleep fragmentation and wake time during the night."
"Electronics and the light they emit — as well as the stress that often comes with them — can dramatically impact our sleep quality and quantity," said Dr. Winter. "The light can interrupt the brain's ability to produce the sleep-promoting chemical melatonin."
Using glasses that filter out blue light or setting your device to a "sleep" setting can help, but it's better to just power down. "You should avoid bright light and blue light from devices at least an hour or two before bedtime," Dr. Wells said. Instead, try creating a relaxing bedtime routine, which may include meditation, reading, or deep-breathing exercises.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees for optimal sleep. You should also wear looser clothing to prevent heat from being trapped inside. It'll benefit your skin, too. "Tighter clothing can lead to friction and irritation, which can cause clogged pores and rashes," Michael Kassardjian, DO, a board-certified dermatologist at Coast Dermatology, told POPSUGAR. "Additionally, the hot and humid environment caused by warmer clothing is a perfect breeding ground for bacterial and fungal infections. Folliculitis, acne, and yeast infections are some examples of what can develop."
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