Tuesday, March 8, 2011

17 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight

Scientists like their zzz's just as much as you do — and have put their (hopefully well-rested) brains to studying what really helps you get a good night's sleep.

1. Pump it Up Regular aerobic exercise — bicycling, walking at a moderate pace, swimming laps — for 30 to 40 minutes, four times a week, improves sleep quality. You can break it up into two 20-minute sessions if that fits better into your life. But don't schedule it in the evening; while exercise helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle, the stimulation that comes from a workout in the three hours before bedtime may cancel the benefit.
2. Combine Carbs and Proteins Carbohydrates help your brain use tryptophan, an amino acid that causes sleepiness. And proteins help your body build tryptophan. Get the duo in a light bedtime snack of peanut butter on toast or low-fat cheese and crackers.
3. Try Tai Chi This meditative martial art helps you sleep more deeply and for longer, studies have shown.Taichiproductions.com offers a selection of good, though somewhat pricey ($25), DVDs for beginners. The site also includes lists of certified instructors.
4. Try to Turn In and wake up at the same time every day. But don't worry if you occasionally miss your bedtime during the week — new research shows you can use weekend sleep-ins to help restore your body.
5. Chill Out A cool bedroom lowers your core body temperature, which initiates sleepiness. Ideal thermostat setting? It varies from person to person, but try 65 degrees to start and then adjust, if necessary.
6. Stress Soother Frazzled people sleep less and have worse sleep quality, and compromised slumber contributes to stress. A research-proven way to relax: a warm bath before bed. Not only does a soak help you forget the day's troubles, but raising your skin temperature may enable you to fall asleep faster and then shift you into deeper sleep.
7. Check Your Meds Common drugs, including beta blockers, steroids, and opioid pain pills, can interfere with sleep either by keeping you awake or by contributing to sleep apnea. Some supplements can cause sleep loss, too — ginseng, for example, is a stimulant.
8. Turn Lights Off — and away. Switch off the TV and computer, and face your alarm clock away from you. You'll banish the glow and also those late-night inner monologues — It's 3 A.M.! How will I ever be able to function tomorrow? — that can keep you awake even longer.
9. Snooze Sideways Snoring, besides disturbing your partner, can wake you up. To stop the roar, get off your back. Airways are most blocked in this position, so you snore more.
10. If You’re Tired, you may be tempted to just veg out with a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond. But boredom can actually cause sleep loss. Stay busy and challenged during your waking hours — socially, emotionally, and physically — and you'll sleep more soundly. 
11. Cut off the Coffee and other caffeinated beverages at 2 P.M. It may be hard to resist a Starbucks run when you hit your afternoon slump, but take a short walk instead, and you'll ensure the caffeine won't be keeping you buzzed when you're trying to wind down at night.
12. Create a Separate Bedroom for Fido... and for Fluffy. A Mayo Clinic survey found that 53 percent of people who share beds or bedrooms with pets have disrupted rest. It's best to keep pets out of your room, but if you don't have the heart to teach your old dog a new trick, set up a cozy bed on the floor.
13. Your Day Job may be interfering with your night life. A study of 2,300 U.S. adults found that people who frequently felt upset at work were nearly twice as likely to develop sleep troubles (interestingly, long hours weren't as disruptive). Try to leave office problems at work. Once you're home, really focus on your family: Put colleague conflict or other work troubles out of mind, set your BlackBerry on "silent," and don't check office e-mail.
14. Count Blessings, Not Sheep In a British study, survey respondents who scored highest in gratitude slept longer than less appreciative participants. The quality of their sleep was also better. Take a few minutes each day to mentally savor the things, large or small, that you're thankful for.
15. Low-tech, High Return Sound machines work for low sounds, but for loud noise, try simple earplugs. They help block everything from street noise and TV to your husband's snoring. Highest in GHRI tests for their muffling ability and comfort: Hearos Ear Plugs Ultimate Softness Series ($3 for four pairs; hearos.com).
16. Nap the Right Way If you didn't get enough sleep, take a short early-afternoon siesta (10 to 40 minutes). Follow with a spritz of water on your face, or (to save your makeup) pat the back of your neck with cold water.
17. S-t-r-e-t-c-h In a study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, women who did upper- and lower-body stretches four times a week for about 15 to 30 minutes reduced their problems falling asleep by 30 percent.

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