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As of the first of this month, we're officially a quarter of the way through 2018. How's that New Year's resolution of yours going? If you've made one for your health and see it slipping a little - or if you're looking around for a few quick healthy changes you can make to your life without organizing a yoga event for your office, look no further than these tips, because we're going to be focusing on wellness for the whole month of April.
By now, we've all suffered a night of less-than-optimal sleep - we've slept too little, maybe, or we've woken up in the middle of the night and not been able to sleep. If you're stressed or distracted, going to sleep can feel a lot less like going in for something you need and more like, well, a nightmare.
A quick search of sleep tips online or a survey of your friends will give you plenty of ideas on how to tackle sleep problems, from what to eat and drink before bed to lengthy meditations created with the intention of sending you off to Dreamland. But if getting to sleep is becoming a bit of a marathon for you, you can treat it like one, with these training tips to get your brain to shut off and rest.
1. Turn off the (blue) lights
Have you ever gone to sleep in a windowless room, woken up in the dark, and felt shocked when you found out that the time was either very early or very late?
Naturally, our body's circadian rhythm - its natural 24-hour cycle - wakes us up when it's time to begin the day and get tired when it's time to sleep. Roughly, it will correspond to when the sun rises and sets. However, we have plenty of manmade inventions that will throw us off. Examples include working a job that requires you to rise before the sun, sleeping in a very dark room, working night shifts, and looking at a smartphone or computer, especially after dark.
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Extra stimuli like light and sound - particularly the blue light used to power our computer screens and smartphones - doesn't just mentally put your brain into action; they may also physically stop your brain from producing the hormone melatonin, which makes you drowsy and tells your body when it's time to go to sleep.
Avoid blue light before bed. If you have to do something to wind down before bed, consider an activity that doesn't involve a screen (like a book) or spending some time with family and friends. If your job requires you to look at screens during the night, then consider activating nighttime mode on your phone (if possible) or downloading a program like f.lux, which will change your backlight from blue to yellow and allow your melatonin production to continue as normal.
This is easier said than done, because if we all could relax enough to sleep, wouldn't we? But if you've got a fussy child who keeps calling you because he or she is afraid of monsters under the bed or you have a deal worked out that lets you take some of your work home at night, then it might be hard to disengage when you can finally grab your time to sleep.
So first, consider: everything you have to do right now will still be there in the morning, and if you have the opportunity to sleep now, then you've done all you can do (if you're too tired to work anymore, then you have all the more reason to try and get some shuteye). If anything, you'll be even better equipped to handle the tasks at hand with more rest.
Then, figure out a routine that works for you to wind down for bed, something to concentrate on besides work (or makes it difficult for you to think of work). If you don't have a go-to activity for relaxation, you can try a guided meditation, a Spotify playlist curated just for sleep, or even a therapist-developed audio track that helps you get into the headspace for sleep (we've put some of our favorites here).
If you decide you want to work out before bed to get a little more tired, it's actually not a bad idea. You can find researcher tips on getting the most out of your pre-bed workout here.
3. Avoid middle-of-the-night interruptions
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Waking up before your alarm and not being able to get back to sleep is frustrating, but all is not lost. Even small amounts of sleep , including resting in quiet darkness without lights on, can help you rest up. So try to lie back down and sleep. If you do have to get up and do sometime, do try to avoid blue light again, which will only further stimulate your brain to awaken.
4. Try a natural sleep aid
Anything prescription-grade requires a doctor, and if your sleep deprivation is chronic or really disrupting your work day, perhaps a visit to a doctor is in order. But, remember that sleep hormone melatonin? It is available over-the-counter and can be taken to ease yourself back into your circadian rhythm if your patterns are way off (think jetlag-types of situations, or the three really late work nights you pulled in a row that now have you wide awake at 2:30am).
5. Make your nap count
Have you ever taken a nap gone wrong? You wake up feeling sluggish and maybe have a headache, or you wake up and five hours have gone by. Where has the world gone?
Naps can be great, if you end up needing to rectify some of the sleep you lost the night before. There's nothing wrong with grabbing a quick snooze during the day, but make sure that you aren't messing with your sleep cycle, which is a little more complex than a set number of hours.
Basically, when you nap, you need to make sure that you're not napping long enough to get to the part of your sleep cycle that includes deep sleep, or you may wake up feeling more tired than you were when you lay down. Too long of a nap during the day may also, in return, make it harder for you to go to sleep at night, because you won't feel as tired.
So, what's the magic number? You're going to want to head for 10 to 20 minutes of sleep. Around minute 30, you get really close to deep sleep territory, which is not a place you want to be. If you want, you can repeat that short nap a few hours later.
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