Sleep is one of the most important aspects of healthy living. The New York Times recently proclaimed that "sleep is the new status symbol," and recent studies have blamed a lack of sleep for everything from poor academic performance to weight gain to relationship problems. So how much sleep do you really need? Probably more than you're getting. The CDC recommends a minimum of 7 hours, even for adults. Children and teens need even more, so if you're a parent, be sure to help your child get to bed at a reasonable hour each night.
Here are some ways to help yourself doze off more quickly, and enhance the quality of your sleep:
Power down: Turn off all devices at least an hour before bedtime. If you must read off your device in bed, be sure to use a blue light filtering software. And for sleep's sake, if you need an alarm, get an alarm clock and leave your smartphone in another room.
Create a ritual: Doing the same things before bed each night will help cue your body that it's time to sleep. Taking a shower, making some hot tea, using aromatherapy or writing for a few minutes in a journal can help you to signal your brain that it's bedtime.
Exercise regularly: Doing regular aerobic exercise can be hugely beneficial to the quality of your sleep, as well as your health in general.
Stay consistent: Try to keep your bedtime and wake up time consistent. On weekends or days off, don't stay up too late or sleep in too much.
Make it dark: When it comes to sleep, did you know that light can actually be more disruptive than noise? Use light cancelling curtains or shades to filter out as much light as possible, and try to eliminate minor light sources like those from an alarm clock or night light.
Train your mind: If there's one thing that fuels insomnia, it's an overactive brain. If you can't seem to let go of what happened at work, or you tend to lie in bed with racing thoughts, you might consider adding a mindfulness or meditation practice to your daily routine.
Don't eat at night: Having a large evening meal or snacking before bedtime can be detrimental to the quality of your sleep. Get in the habit of eating earlier, and leave a window of time between your final meal and bedtime.
Try herbal remedies: Melatonin, kava, valerian root and chamomile are all said to support sleep, and many people find that they help. These herbal remedies can be found at your natural food store, in capsule or tea form.
Stay cool: Temperature can have an enormous impact on sleep. Keep your bedroom cool and choose blankets and sheets that will help you stay warm, but not too warm.
If you still can't sleep:
If you have severe insomnia, it may be worth consulting your doctor or a sleep specialist to find out if there's a serious, underlying health issue. Sleep medication is sometimes necessary. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has also been shown to be as effective or more effective than medication for improving sleep long term. Visit www.cbtforinsomnia.com for more information.
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