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March 10 marks the beginning of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week. This year, the NSF has chosen “Begin With Sleep” as its theme, with the goal of promoting good sleep health. Getting enough rest often sounds easier than it actually is, but the tips below should help you celebrate positive sleep habits and make changes that benefit your mind, body, and spirit.
1. REEVALUATE YOUR SLEEP HABITS
You can’t improve your sleep until you understand how well you’re resting now.
- What is your pre-bedtime routine?
- Do you wake up feeling restored or are you restless all night long?
- How many hours of sleep do you get each night? Each week?
You can use a sleep app to track your sleep schedule and identify problem areas. Quick changes such as shutting off electronics 30 minutes before bed and using blackout curtains to keep early morning sunshine at bay could make a big difference.
Parents frequently create bedtime routines for their children, but we abandon the practice as adults. Going straight from watching TV to bed may be typical, but it’s not the best way to ensure what experts call “good sleep hygiene.” Instead, try this:
- Wake up and go to bed at roughly the same time every day to reset your body’s internal clock
- Stop consuming caffeine and other stimulants — including food, which activates your digestion — at least four hours before bedtime
- Take care of cleaning tasks in your bedroom long before you hit the sack so you’re only thinking about rest, not chores, once nighttime rolls around
- Calm your mind and body by taking a bath, reading a book, listening to meditation tracks or playing soothing music as you wind down for the day
2. CONQUER INSOMNIA
Lying awake at night when the rest of the world is sleeping is a terrible feeling. All you want to do is drift off to dreamland, but you’re stuck counting an endless parade of sheep. Take National Sleep Awareness Week as an opportunity to train your brain to let go of activity and sink into relaxation.
Simple breathing cycles, such as inhaling to a count of seven and exhaling to a count of eight, act as a basic form of meditation. You’re focusing on the breathing, not on the thoughts racing around in your head. Counting may sound like work, but it’s amazing how quickly this easy exercise can send you to sleep.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Start at the very top of your head and breathe in, concentrating on releasing the muscles in your scalp as you breathe out. Continue all the way down your body to your toes, systematically tensing each muscle or muscle group and then relaxing until you feel calm and loose.
Get Some Exercise
Move around more during the day and you may sleep longer and more soundly at night. Don’t hit the gym too close to bedtime, though; exercise is a stimulant, and working out late could keep you awake.
3. TREAT YOURSELF TO A NEW MATTRESS
Wondering whether you need a new mattress? It’s time to go shopping if your current mattress is:
- Over eight years old
- Showing key signs of wear and tear, such as lumps and bumps or sagging
- Slumping to one side
- Creaking when you move
- Too small or too big for your needs
- Dirty or dusty
Also, look for symptoms of a poor night’s sleep. If you rarely wake up feeling rested or find yourself tossing and turning at night, take a moment to compare top mattresses and decide which model is best for you. From traditional memory foam mattresses to models infused with air-cool technology, today’s marketplace is full of high-quality options tailored to your sleep needs.
4. FIX UP YOUR BEDROOM
The quality of your sleep depends partly on the quality of your surroundings. A space that’s aesthetically pleasing and set up to support sleep can help you get the rest you deserve.
Upgrade Your Decor
The first step is to create a space you love. Take inspiration from Pinterest, or look through decorating magazines to figure out how to get the most out of your space. While it’s always fun to consider a complete overhaul, it might be as simple as a quick repaint or reorganizing your furniture to spruce up your bedroom. Choose colors that are calming and fill your space with art and personal items that inspire joy.
Clear Out the Clutter
Stacks of books and piles of clothing can lead to stress and anxiety. Put stray items away in drawers and cupboards before bed, and if necessary squeeze a thorough spring cleaning into your schedule, and concentrate on your bedroom. You may be surprised to discover that a tidy room often leads to a tidy mind.
Invest in Comfort
There are many ways to save money, but don’t scrimp on sheets, pillows and carpeting. Wrapping yourself in a fluffy, soft duvet could be just what you need to sink into a deep sleep. In a similar vein, a thick-piled rug by the side of your bed is a treat for your toes on a cold winter morning. Balance the temperature in your room, too. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your bedroom temperature between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. GET MORE BRIGHT LIGHT EXPOSURE IN THE DAYTIME
While a dark environment can help you sleep better at night, soaking up sunlight during the day is an equally important part of your sleep cycle. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s innate way of tracking time and deciding when you should sleep and wake up. While this cycle is supposed to happen naturally, there are certain things that can interrupt it. There are also steps you can take to help your body stay in rhythm.
Getting enough natural sunlight or other bright light in the morning and afternoon is crucial. One study found that increased bright light exposure improved sleep quality in the elderly. Another study found workers who got extra sunlight or bright indoor light in the morning felt less stressed or depressed and also had a better night’s sleep.
Try to get outside whenever possible, even if it’s just a walk around the block during your lunch hour. If that’s not possible, open the blinds in your house or office and soak up the sun that way.
6. RESEARCH AND SHARE GOOD SLEEP HABITS
The only thing better than finding new ways to improve your sleep is helping your loved ones do the same. Resources like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Sleep Association and National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project have a plethora of information made available to the public. You can learn about everything from snoring to sleep disorders, download infographics, read blogs and pass it all along to friends and family.
7. SLEEP IN LATE
What better way to celebrate National Sleep Awareness Week than to catch more shut-eye? It’s hard to prioritize rest when your personal and professional obligations are constantly nipping at your heels, but sleep is important. Without it, you stand the risk of lowered brain function and compromised emotional well-being. You may see a decline in your physical health, be less able to function safely while driving or at work, and be increasingly grumpy.
Give yourself the gift of a morning spent in bed with snacks, a good book and nothing to do but relax. If you can, book yourself a hotel and commemorate NSAW with breakfast in bed courtesy of room service. You’ve earned it.