Increasingly busier schedules and an addiction to glowing screens are making eight hours of sleep more elusive than ever for most Americans. “Sleep deprivation is the forgotten sleep disorder,” said Dr. Michael Weinstein, director of Winthrop-University Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center. “It is so prevalent that we often lose sight of it and yet, close to three-quarters of the population sleeps less than the recommended eight hours per night. Chronic sleep deprivation can have profound implications including reduced quality of life, increased risk of motor vehicle accidents and, possibly, increased risks of obesity and death.”
Quality sleep is one of the most basic tenets of wellness and one of the most organic ways to renew our bodies and minds. There’s no guaranteed way to drop off to dreamland at will. However, adapting some of these proactive tips might enhance the chances of a deeper, more restorative sleep cycle.
1. EAT AND DRINK CAREFULLY
The weight loss adage, “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper,” is just as applicable when trying to get some shuteye. Dr. Paul Tchao, board certified in internal medicine and a member of Stony Brook University School of Medicine’s teaching staff, counsels against eating certain foods late in the day. “Avoid rich, fatty, fried or spicy foods, citrus fruits and carbonated drinks in the evening because they can trigger indigestion.” He also advises substituting chamomile tea for caffeine and other nicotine stimulants, starting four to six hours before bedtime. WebMD states that food items that contain the essential amino acid L-Tryptophan—turkey, chicken, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish and eggs—have a calming effect.
2. CREATE A SERENE SLEEPING SPACE
The ability to sleep like a baby in hotel rooms is not just about being travel-weary. Specific design elements in hotel rooms contribute to sleeping well. “Sleep comes easier if there is no visual chatter in your bedroom. It’s about simplicity,” said Clodagh, a top New York interior designer of stunningly serene spaces at spas such as Miraval Life in Balance Spa in Tucson and Six Senses Douro Valley in Portugal. “The last thing you see before you go to sleep should be an art piece or flowers that harmonize with your emotions.” Clodagh recommended using organic mattresses and pillows and spraying sleep-inducing fragrance, such as lavender, on the pillow. Blackout shades, eyeshades, earplugs, humidifiers and sleep bracelets (which stimulates acupressure) may also be good investments. As for those ever-present electronic devices, consider the National Sleep Foundation’s warning: “Careful studies have shown that even our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness.”
3. TRY ACUPUNCTURE
Melatonin is a natural hormone the body produces and it helps regulate sleep patterns. The ancient Eastern treatment of acupuncture can boost melatonin levels, ultimately aiding in sleep. “Acupuncture is a pain-free, drug-free way to help with sleeping by stimulating the production of endorphins in the body, which is a pre-cursor molecule to the relaxing hormones serotonin and melatonin,” explained Anthony Cerabino, a licensed acupuncturist and owner of Healthcare Wellness Center in Bay Shore.
4. GET EXERCISE
Exercise is great for your physical health, but it will also help your body get the rest it needs. “[The time of day] you exercise is key to a good night’s sleep,” said Dr. Alan Blum of Premier Sleep Center in Lynbrook. He recommended exercising at least three hours before you go to bed. “That will give your body temperature and metabolism an opportunity to drop.” David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, concurred. “For the millions of people who want better sleep, exercise may help,” he said. “Working up a good sweat is an important ingredient for getting a good night’s sleep.”
5. ESTABLISH A RITUAL
The Mayo Clinic claims that, “Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep.” The hospital recommended going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, takes it a step further. He proposes establishing a personalized sleep formula to improve sleep quantity. According to Breus, the average sleep cycle is 90 minutes long and there are typically five sleep cycles per night, totaling 7.5 hours of needed sleep. “If you need to wake at 6am to get ready for work,” Breus stated, “counting back seven-and-a-half hours, your ideal bedtime is 10:30pm. That means lights out, in bed, ready for sleep at that time.”