Instead of bragging about how little sleep we need, what if we rewarded star sleepers for their healthy habits?
First, we'd have to identify those key qualities that make someone good at sleep. A recent survey from Consumer Reports may offer some clues.
The publication asked more than 26,000 subscribers about their sleep habits. Nearly 60 percent reported feeling tired or having trouble falling or staying asleep at least three times a week. They cited common sleep stealers like work-related stress, health issues and money problems as the reasons they couldn't get enough quality shut-eye.
Many said they had at least once turned to over-the-counter sleep aids for relief, while others reported that techniques like mediation, yoga and white noise had eased their bedtime bothers.
However, not every respondent had bad news to share. Nearly 9,000 people said they had few or no sleep difficulties during the past 30 days. The survey found that these sleep stars share a couple of sleep-promoting healthy habits that really set them apart from those of us perpetually waking up on the wrong side of the bed.
By now you probably know that to get the best sleep, it’s important to make your bedroom a calm and soothing haven by keeping it cool, dark and quiet, and that you should ditch caffeine early in the day and keep technology out of the bedroom. But here are a few extra measure that help true sleep stars fall -- and stay -- asleep, plus why each one makes you a star.
Exercising During The Day
Physical activity tuckers you out -- literally! A number of studies have linked exercise to better sleep. Last year, one published in the journal <em>Mental Health and Physical Activity</em> found that breaking a sweat for at least 150 minutes a week led to <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755296611000317" target="_hplink">65 percent better sleep quality</a>. As long as you don't exercise right before bed, any time will do, but late afternoon or early evening may be best, according to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-robert-oexman/" target="_hplink">Dr. Robert Oexman</a>, director of the <a href="http://www.sleeptolive.com/" target="_hplink">Sleep to Live Institute</a> and HuffPost blogger, when the body's core temperature naturally increases. "In order for us to fall asleep, we need a decrease in core body temperature," he explains. So when the buzz from that early evening workout starts to fall off, "that coincides with our natural tendency to get sleepy." Breaking a sweat too close to lights out can mean your core temperature is still too high, which can lead to fragmented sleep, says Oexman. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dahlstroms/5195659220/" target="_hplink">Håkan Dahlström</a></em>
Unwinding 30 Minutes Before Bed
"What we've done in our society is stimulate ourselves all the time," says Oexman, "and then suddenly it's 'lights off!' and you can't go to sleep." Instead of expecting sleep to happen like a switch, he says, it's important to allow the brain and body some time to ease into sleep. Before electricity, as it got dark outside, even with oil lamps, it got dark inside too, signaling to the brain that it was time to start secreting melatonin, a hormone that not only puts us to sleep but helps us stay that way, he says. Today, we leave the TV, the laptop and the iPad on until the minute before we hope to be in dreamland, and that light seriously messes with our sleep cycles, he says. It doesn't matter what you do in these relaxing minutes -- it could be meditation, breathing exercises, reading (but nothing too stimulating) listening to music, or many other calming activities -- just so long as you allow yourself the time to do it. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/artotemsco/4806204752/" target="_hplink">Artotem</a></em>
Going To Bed (And Waking Up) At The Same Time
Oexman says he hears lots of complaints that following this rule is just impossible. "What do you mean you can't?" he rebuttals. "You don't want to, but really, you can," he says. And if you don't -- say you stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights, then sleep late all weekend and head back to work on Monday exhausted -- you're living in a perpetual cycle of artificial jet lag, often referred to as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-volpi-md-pc-facs/social-jet-lag_b_1635922.html" target="_hplink">social jet lag</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/brucebeh/401581357/" target="_hplink">brucebeh</a></em>
Engaging In Sexual Activity Before Bed
You've probably heard to reserve the bed for sleep and sex only. But doing the deed may actually <em>help</em> when it comes to hitting the hay. The hormone oxytocin, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/10-surprising-health-benefits-of-sex?page=3" target="_hplink">released during orgasm</a>, has been <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12832103" target="_hplink">shown to promote sleep</a> in some studies. However, the effect may be greater for men, says Oexman, while for women, the release of hormones during sex often has more of a stimulating effect.
What Else Makes A Star Sleeper?
While not mentioned by <em>Consumer Reports</em>, there are a few other traits Oexman looks for in sleepers who deserve a pat on the back, including using the right mattress and pillow (and replacing them as needed), addressing any pain issues that disrupt sleep and kicking Fido out of bed. "I get it, I love animals," he says, "but animals have a very, very different circadian rhythm than humans and have a tendency to move at night." You may not remember it in the morning, but it's likely you'll wake up when your dog or cat does, and you'll feel groggier in the morning because of it. "They belong in their own bed," he says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bigd2112/3649962356/" target="_hplink">Big D2112</a></em>
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