Believe it or not, 2017 is just a few days away. Right now we’re in that most special time of year — the quiet lull between holiday parties, when we start thinking about our New Year’s Resolutions. Because the season is saturated with overindulgences, most of us put “get in shape” or “get healthier” somewhere near the top of our lists. (Those cheesecakes, pound cakes, rum cakes, and fruitcakes aren’t going anywhere on their own.)
Getting healthier should always be a priority. If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably thinking of starting the new year fresh by making changes to your diet and your exercise routines. But when it comes to losing weight and getting in better physical shape, don’t overlook the importance of sleep.
Top 5 Sleep Health Resolutions for 2017
Sleep is central to everything: health, healing, mood, athletic performance, work performance, school performance, and the formation and recall of memories. As 2016 comes to a close, you’re probably thinking about at least a few of those things; for example, How can I do better in school? Can I improve my results at work? How can I become more fit or feel more healthy in 2017? The holidays are an important time of year for asking these questions and for setting goals for self-improvement.
When making plans for 2017, don’t forget to factor in sleep. Getting more rest is a powerful way to turbo-charge all your new year’s resolutions, helping you to “level up” at life. Making a few simple changes to your sleep habits can have a net positive effect on so many other aspects of life. You may find that sleeping more helps you to eat less, exercise more effectively, and have more mental clarity and focus to tackle all those other items on your New Year’s Resolutions list.
Where should you begin if you want to sleep better in 2017? Start with these Top 5 Sleep Health Resolutions for the New Year:
- No blue light before bed. Recent research studies have shown that short-wavelength blue light — the type of light emitted from e-readers, tablets, smartphones, computer screens, and television sets — suppresses the production of melatonin and shifts your body’s circadian clock, delaying the onset of sleep. People who use these devices before bed are more alert and take longer to fall asleep. They take longer to wake up, too, and feel sleepier in the morning. To get a better night’s sleep, stop using blue light about an hour before you go to bed. If you can, dim your brightness or use an app that filters out blue light.
- Turn off the infostream. Backing away from TV, tablets, and cell phones is helpful for a second reason: filling your mind with too many stressful facts before sleep can lead to insomnia. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) agrees. To sleep as well as possible, you need to practice proper sleep hygiene — a set of practices that increase your chances of having quality sleep. Proper sleep hygiene includes not reading, listening to, or watching anything that might “keep you up at night.”According to the NSF, establishing a relaxing routine means avoiding “emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don't dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.” If the news makes you anxious or if late-night TV programs are too stimulating, make a conscious effort to avoid reading or watching within an hour of your bedtime.
- Keep your room cool. (But not too cool!) The temperature in your bedroom plays a big role in how well you sleep. If your room is too hot or too cold, your body’s natural thermostat will work extra hard to keep your core temperature at a sleep-optimal level. This struggle to get comfortable can lead to restless, interrupted sleep, nighttime awakenings, and an inability to achieve REM sleep (the deepest, most restful phase of your sleep cycle). REM sleep is essential for memory consolidation and other brain functions. To get the best possible sleep, aim to keep your bedroom between 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Breathe better. Getting enough oxygen while you sleep is an important part of staying healthy. If your breathing is chronically interrupted during sleep — by sleep apnea, asthma, or allergies — the level of oxygen in your blood can drop. This can lead to complications like high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches, and memory loss. Even a short-term loss of oxygen (for example, when you have head congestion from a cold) can cause problems like brain fog and daytime sleepiness. To sleep better and to stay healthy, you need to breathe better. If you’ve already received a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), comply with your therapy and wear your CPAP or oral anti-snoring appliance. If you are prone to allergies or colds, invest in allergen-free bedding, keep your room clear of dust, and use a humidifier in your bedroom (especially in dry climates and drought areas). Allergy medications and products like nasal sprays and nasal strips (used to open up nasal passages) can also be helpful.
- See a sleep doctor/get a sleep study. Perhaps you’ve been suffering through poor-quality sleep for a while. You might be tossing and turning, waking up in the night, snoring excessively, or waking up groggy. If you have trouble sleeping or if you are dealing with excessive daytime sleepiness that affects your work and your life, it may be time to see a doctor. Very often, poor quality sleep can be diagnosed and treated by a sleep specialist. The first step is to visit your physician and talk about your symptoms. If a sleep study is in order, your physician can refer you to a local sleep clinic. The good news: the majority of sleep disorders are treatable.
Also — don’t underestimate the importance of taking care of yourself in a more general sense. Eating well (especially foods that are beneficial to sleep), getting outdoors in the daylight every day, keeping your stress to a minimum, and exercising on a regular basis are all great ways to help boost the quality of your sleep.
Better sleep is something we all want. When we sleep well, we’re able to think clearly. Our memories improve. We have more energy. We can lose weight or maintain a healthy weight with less of a struggle.
Take another look at your New Year’s Resolutions list. Is “take actions to sleep better” on there yet? If not — why not?
National Sleep Foundation: https://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/sleep-hygiene