Sleep should be simple. You crawl into bed, close your eyes, and seven or eight hours later you awaken fully rested and ready to start your day. Of course, few things in life are simple. Some nights the day’s stress plays inside our mind in an unhappy, unbroken loop –– leaving us tossing and turning and anxious for rest. Nighttime noises interrupt our dreams; our bed partners get up earlier or go to sleep later. These and other myriad issues distract us from a sound, restful slumber. There are steps you can take. The first is understanding exactly what makes a person a “good sleeper.”
They Live Low Stress Lives
It’s no accident that some of the best sleepers are retirees. Sure, people over the age of 65 often have health problems that prevent a decent night’s sleep. Yet despite this, a recent poll showed that the soundest sleepers are older and many of them are no longer working. For them, leaving job stress behind was the best cure for insomnia. Of course most of us don’t have that luxury –– and many wouldn’t want to retire even if we could. So the solution is to start resolving stress during the daytime instead of playing it back at night. Start saying “no” more often –– to additional work, to extra carpool trips, to family obligations. Keep a gratitude journal and practice mindful meditation – two medically proven stress busters. And if you can, embrace the old saying: Don’t sweat the small stuff–and it’s all small stuff.
They Take Care of Themselves
Moderate, consistent exercise can do more than help you deal with stress while getting you in better shape. It has been shown to increase the amount of slow wave sleep you get –– the deeper, sounder sleep that helps restore your body and brain. The key is to engage in activity at least four or five hours before bedtime. If your heart’s still pounding from cardio, sleep will be far more challenging. Diet is also important. Don’t eat heavy, late-night meals or consume spicy food in the evening. Both can affect the quality and duration of sleep. If your body mass index (BMI) is over 25, losing weight can also help you sleep better. Overweight people often suffer from sleep apnea. This disorder causes you to stop breathing for short periods several times a night. This can definitely impair sleep.
They Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
Although a few stiff drinks may help you nod off, the sleep you get will be far less sound. That means you could technically get eight hours of sleep and still not feel refreshed. Although alcohol in moderation is fine, cut yourself off a few hours before bedtime. Similarly, coffee has numerous health benefits. However, caffeine can stay in your system for over eight hours. This means your last cup of coffee should probably be in the early afternoon. Again, many people have coffee far later and don’t have any difficulty falling asleep. The issue is that sleep quality declines –– which over time can lead to a host of health issues.
They Follow Their Chronotype
“Chronotype” is just a fancy way of referring to night owls and morning larks. Although it is closely related to circadian rhythm, unlike our daily sleep-wake schedule–which can be controlled by exposure to light–scientists generally believe our chronotype is fixed and inalterable. It’s also about more than just your preferred sleep and wake time. Instead, it examines what your optimal time of day is for many activities including meals, exercise, and work. A number of insomniacs have been “cured” just by adjusting their hours. This isn’t easy. Despite our global, 24-hour economy, many jobs still adhere to antiquated nine-to-five type schedules. Yet finding a way to get your work to sync to your body rather than the other way around is an important step toward becoming a “good sleeper.”
They Make it a Priority
Finally, if you are having trouble sleeping, resolve to make it a priority. For one week, set a bedtime. Stow blue-light emitting electronic devices at least an hour before that bedtime. Take a warm bath or shower. Sip some herbal tea; read a printed book. Fall asleep in a cool, dark, quiet room. Becoming a “good sleeper” will quickly improve many other areas of your life.
Written by John Bankston