The 1993 movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray may have been more appropriately titled New Year's Day. It seems that most people wake up New Year's Day with the same resolution they had the previous year! Are we destined to fail at diets, smoking cessation, exercise programs, or simply finding more time for ourselves? Maybe we should stack the deck in our favor by getting the right "mindset" for achieving our goals. It all starts with sleep -- pair any resolution you have with more sleep for the best results.
It should be no surprise that people across the world are committing less time for sleep and when they do sleep, it's poor quality. I'm certain you have caught yourself saying, "I am just too tired to ________" -- and simply fill in the blank. This lack of sleep has been shown to impact motivation, concentration, energy, and weight gain/loss. Conversely, making a commitment to get the proper quantity and quality of sleep can help you get focused, feel motivated, and have energy to achieve your goals.
The Best Time for a Successful Sleep Resolution Is Now
The winter months -- January, February, and March -- mark a great time to make a commitment to kick-off a new sleep routine. Here's why:
- Social activities around the holidays are over and we tend to spend more time at home.
- With shorter days (and no daylight savings times) we are less drawn to doing outdoor activities that keep us up later than we would like.
- The early darkness also causes us to get sleepier earlier in the day, making it easier to fall asleep when it is time for bed.
- Increased darkness allows us to produce melatonin naturally, which makes us drowsy and promotes good sleep.
- Finally, the later sunrise will allow us to sleep in a bit each morning without the sunshine peeking in the window, which disrupts our sleep.
Five Tips for Victory!
So, you're ready to get started -- great! Here are five tips for a successful sleep resolution:
1. We Are Family: Get your family involved! Tell your children that research has shown if they keep electronics out of the bedroom and get to bed on time they may do better on tests, have higher GPAs and have more energy for athletics and activities. Plus, getting the family involved will minimize the temptation to "cheat" on your own resolution. Of all the popular New Year's resolutions, this is one where the entire family benefits from the results.
2. Sleep Schedule: Get your sleep partner on the same schedule. And if that fails, make sure they relax outside of the bedroom. Do not let them watch TV in your bedroom while you are trying to sleep. Great bedroom accessories include eye masks and earplugs, which minimize noise and light if one partner goes to bed later or gets up earlier. White noise machines are also great at helping to mask environmental noise.
3. Watch the Clock! You must make a time commitment -- for both quantity and quality sleep. That means no late nights. Instead, organize your chores and errands to do a little each night. If you have a late-night show that you just can't miss, record it to watch early the next night or on the weekend.
4. Get the Right Sleep Tools: Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow that allow you to sleep without discomfort. This will make it easier to fall and stay asleep, and you may just find yourself wanting to go to bed.
5. Keep Cool: Make sure the room temperature is cool -- 65 to 68 degrees is ideal. This is key because in order to fall asleep and maintain sleep we need a decrease in core body temperature. The cooler outdoor temperatures of winter make this easier to achieve. Go ahead and use as many blankets you need to stay warm. Simply exposing your head to the cool temperatures will help to lower core body temperature.
So, here's the bonus for when you're finally sleeping better: By making a commitment to sleep, your other New Year's resolutions will be easier to keep. You will have more energy to exercise. Your motivation will be higher to not smoke. You may be less hungry and it can be easier to lose weight. Cognitive thinking skills may increase, making it easier to learn and get more organized. You may even find yourself with more patience for those family members you committed to hang out with more often.
Can't sleep? Find out which home remedies really work:
Soothing music before bedtime can really do the trick. A 2005 study found that older people who listened to 45 minutes of soft tunes before hitting the hay reported a 35 percent improvement in their sleep problems. But it doesn't have to be Brahms, if that's not your style. As long as the music was soft and slow -- around 60 to 80 beats per minute -- it can spur physical changes known to promote sleep, like a slower heart rate and breathing, the BBC reported. "We know that when a person closes their eyes they induce a certain frequency of brain waves," says Decker. Slow music may have a similar effect, he surmises, leading to sleep onset. Flickr photo by Llima
It was once thought that a glass of warm milk at bedtime would help send you off to dreamland because of the tryptophan, The New York Times reported, but milk and other protein-rich foods actually block tryptophan's sleepiness-inducing effects. However, there might still be a psychological benefit to that warm milk, the Times concluded, calling it "as soothing as a favorite old blanket." "There have been some studies showing that when infants receive warm milk before bed, they'll dream a little bit more," says Decker, but the results don't hold true in adults. "It may be one of those myths that because it happens in children, adults think it may be true for them, too," he explains. However, many adults are actually at least slightly lactose intolerant, he says, meaning a warm mlik at bedtime may just lead to discomfort. Flickr photo by julianrod
If your goal is to bore yourself to sleep, you might try counting sheep, or counting backwards by multiples of three or any of a number of other counting-related mind-numbers. But a 2002 study found that imagining a more relaxing scene might be more effective. The study observed 41 people with insomnia over a number of nights and asked them to try a variety of different sleep-inducing techniques, like counting sheep. On the nights they were told to imagine relaxing scenes like a beach, a massage or a walk in the woods, they fell asleep an average of 20 minutes sooner than on the nights they were told to count sheep or were given no instructions, Mental Floss reported. Decker agrees. "Counting sheep in and of itself may not help," but can act as a ritual that prepares us for sleep, making it not unlike meditation. Counting sheep -- or more relaxing guided imagery -- helps us "focus on something other than life's stressors," he says. "Thinking about a soothing environment may be more restful than the way you spent the last eight hours!" Flickr photo by Kr. B.
Focusing on the breath, whether it's as part of a pre-bed yoga sequence or just a tuned-in awareness, can also have meditation-like effects in preparing for bed, says Decker, like lowering the heart rate. Flickr photo by Perfecto Insecto
Your body temp dips about two hours before bedtime, Health magazine reported, a natural change that "triggers our brain for sleep onset", says Decker. Soaking in a warm bath beforehand boosts your temperature temporarily, but results in a dramatic, rapid cooldown after you get out that relaxes you and eases you into sleep. It's not necessarily the bath that lulls you to sleep, it's that resulting cooling of your body temperature, Decker emphasizes. Research shows that people who take a warm bath before bed not only fall asleep more quickly, but also report better quality of sleep, he says.
Many people swear by a drink to unwind at the end of the day, but alcohol before bed can actually disrupt your sleep. You'll be more likely to wake up more often in the early-morning hours, wake up and not be to fall back to sleep or have disturbing dreams. "As alcohol is metabolized by the liver, it has a disruptive effect," says Decker. It takes a few hours to metabolize, he says, so a drink with dinner shouldn't be a problem, but anything too close to bedtime can be counterproductive. Flickr photo by Rob Qld
It sounds crazy -- how will you ever get to sleep if you're not even in bed?! -- but it works, says Decker. "When a person stays in bed and they can't sleep, the bedroom can induce a certain level of anxiety," he says. "We say after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed, sit in another part of the house until you feel a little groggy, then go back to sleep," he says. "Staying in bed can condition you to become anxious in bed." A small 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that among the adults studied who reported trouble sleeping, those who spent less time in bed had better sleeping habits. Flickr photo by Perfecto Insecto
For more by Dr. Robert Oexman, click here.
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