A good night's sleep makes you smarter, happier, boosts your immune system and overtime can actually slow the aging process. Unfortunately, during these stressful days, a solid 7-8 hours is harder and harder to come by. You don't need me to tell you just how lousy and out of it you feel when you sleep badly. Besides, beauty sleep is no mere expression - everyone looks better and brighter when they've had a full 7-8 hours. Make sure you're getting the shut-eye you need with these tips:
1) SKIP THE SECOND ROUND
Alcohol is probably the substance used most often for sleep, reports a study in Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (it's also a major ingredient in many over the- counter cold medications.) However, when you fall asleep under the influence, both the quantity and the quality of your sleep are adversely affected. Even small to moderate intakes of alcohol can suppress melatonin (a hormone that help regulate sleep), interfere with restorative N-REM cycles, and prevent dreaming, according to Rubin Naiman, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and coauthor of Healthy Sleep.
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2) CUT BACK ON CAFFEINE
Caffeine boosts alertness, activates stress hormones, and elevates heart rate and blood pressure - none of which are very helpful when you're trying to get shut-eye. Some people are more sensitive than others to caffeine's effects, and one's sensitivity may be hereditary. If you're sensitive to caffeine, take note that its half-life - the time required by your body to break down half of it - can be as long as 7 hours. In other words, if you were to have your last cup of coffee at 1 pm, a quarter of the caffeine it contained could still remain in your system as late as 3 am. In women, estrogen may delay caffeine metabolism even further. Between ovulation and menstruation, you take about 25% longer to eliminate it, and if you're on birth control pills, you take about twice the normal time. (Newer, low-estrogen pills may have less of an impact.)
3) OPEN A WINDOW
Most sleep researchers advise keeping your bedroom cool, but not cold - the National Sleep Foundation recommends between 54 and 75°F. This is because a cool room makes it easier for your core body temperature to drop, which must occur for you to fall asleep. (Body temp reaches its lowest point about 4 hours after you nod off.) However, the thermostat is only part of the story: Proper air circulation and blankets that aren't too heavy -a big problem in hotel rooms - can also facilitate a drop in body temperature.
A series of fascinating studies done in the past decade and a half by Swiss researchers Kurt Kräuchi and Anna Wirz-Justice, PhD, found an inverse relation between warm feet and cool body temp: When your feet and hands are warm, the blood vessels dilate, allowing heat to escape and body temperature to fall, initiating sleep. Conversely, when hands and feet are cold, the vessels constrict, retaining heat, which may keep you awake.
4) ORDER THE PASTA AT LUNCH, NOT DINNER
It's true that carbohydrates boost the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan in the blood, which in turn boosts serotonin. But don't assume that a big plate of pasta will put you to sleep; in fact, as a general rule, anything that raises body temperature, including the consumption of calories, wrecks sleep. Plus, if you have any digestive problems such as heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eating a big meal before bedtime is just asking for trouble.
5) USE YOUR ALARM EVERY DAY (EVEN SUNDAYS)
Most experts insist that we regularize our sleep. They point to evidence that our circadian rhythm - the natural ebb and flow of energy levels throughout the day - thrives on consistency. The more predictable our sleep schedule, the better our bodies work, they say. But even those who argue this most strongly admit that, while it helps to keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, it may not be the complete answer.
According to researchers, even if insomniacs keep regular sleep patterns, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll sleep well or long enough, notes Kathryn Reid, PhD, a research assistant professor in the department of neurology at the Northwestern University Center for Sleep and Circadian Rhythm. Napping is an issue on which experts are also divided. Bottom line: try to get up and go to sleep at roughly the same time most days of the week.
[photo credit: Getty Images]
More advice for a better night's rest:
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