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Leading a More Restful Life: 9 Tricks to Learn From Super Sleepers

02/25/2015 08:19 am ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015
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Like a four-leaf clover or a double rainbow, people who dutifully log eight hours of sleep each night seem pretty rare in today's world. Yet they do exist -- and not surprisingly, they have a slew of healthy habits that help them snooze soundly each night and wake up energized the next day.

The more sleep-deprived among us can take a cue from these super sleepers to get in on the vast benefits of sleeping well. Here's a peek at the smart, surprising habits of great sleepers, plus how the rest of us can copy their moves to a better night's rest.

1. They exercise early.

Morning fitness class or gym time before work? Go ahead, give it a try. Research suggests that working out in the a.m. could lead to better sleep than afternoon or evening sweat sessions.

While experts aren't exactly sure why, it could have something to do with morning exercise's ability to help regulate the secretion of certain hormones involved in blood pressure management, which may lead to better sleep.

If you can't stand the idea of a morning workout (or have a schedule that would make it too tough), remember that when it comes to sleep, any regular exercise is better than none at all. But, it's best to wrap it up a few hours before bed to give your body time to cool off and wind down.

One recent study found that high exercise activity is associated with better sleep quality. Another concluded that people who get 60 minutes of exercise five days per week have more normal REM sleep than non-exercisers.

2. They load up on omega-3s.

Essential fatty acids are good for everything from mood to brain health to heart health, and recent research suggests that they might help you snooze better, too.

One Oxford University study found that having higher levels of omega-3s is associated with better sleep, possibly because they boost production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Throw a handful of chia seeds into your smoothie, add salmon to your salad for lunch, or talk to your doctor about starting an omega-3 supplement regimen.

3. They go easy on the caffeine.

Unless you're particularly sensitive to caffeine, one or two cups of coffee in the morning probably won't keep you tossing and turning at night.

But loading up on java later in the day just might: Caffeine consumed up to six hours before bedtime can slash your sleep by a full hour, found recent Academy of Sleep Medicine research. So if you're planning to hit the sack by 10 p.m., cut off the coffee no later than 4 p.m.

While you're at it, remember to watch out for other sources of sleep-stealing caffeine, too. Energy drinks, black or green tea, soda, chocolate, and pain relievers all contain plenty of the stuff. Even decaf coffee can contain up to 14 mg of caffeine, according to University of Florida researchers.


4. They find ways to cope with stress.

If you've ever laid awake at night worrying about, well, everything, you know how stress can eat away at sleep. And it's not just mental: Cortisol, the hormone that floods your system during times of stress, is known to make it harder to doze off (plus lead to other problems like weight gain, trouble digesting, and even heart disease).

What's more, there's a kind of vicious cycle at play, since the less sleep you get, the worse and more stressed you end up feeling. But fortunately, the opposite is also true. Adults who regularly get eight hours of sleep report feeling less stressed and less overwhelmed compared to those who sleep less, found one American Psychological Association survey.

Other simple ways to get your stress levels under control? Exercising, eating right, and making time for chill-out activities like reading, meditation, or yoga all make a difference. Or, get those worries out of your head and onto a piece of paper by journaling for a few minutes before bed.

5. They eat light at night.

Craving a midnight snack? Consider steering clear of the ice cream, chips, or cookies. Studies suggest that eating saturated-fat rich foods can disrupt your body's natural sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep. If your stomach starts rumbling before bed, try reaching for good-for-you foods that actually promote sleep, like walnuts, tart cherries, or Greek yogurt instead.

Still, try not to go overboard even with healthy stuff. Eating too much of anything within a few hours of going to bed could suppress your body's ability to produce sleep-promoting melatonin.

6. They go easy on the booze, too.

A nightcap might initially make you feel drowsy and help you nod off. But alcohol's sleep-inducing properties are only temporary and could actually end up having the opposite effect later on.

Too much booze tends to result in lighter, more fragmented sleep that'll leave you feeling less-than-refreshed in the morning. (It can also make snoring worse, especially for people with sleep apnea.)

Don't worry, you don't have to give up alcohol altogether in the name of better sleep. Just try cutting off the drinks 4-6 hours before bedtime. Like caffeine, alcohol just needs enough time to clear your system before your head hits the pillow.

7. They power down at night.

Smartphones, tablets, and laptops let you do everything from shopping to watching movies to working in bed. What they don't let you do? Fall asleep.

Aside from the fact that they're incredibly distracting (just one more episode!), experts agree that the blue light emitted from our devices tends to energize us and zap our body's production of the hormone melatonin.

The fix, of course, is simple: Put your devices away at night -- ideally, two to three hours before you plan to go to sleep. In addition to reducing your blue light exposure, you'll probably feel less stressed, which in itself can help you sleep better.

According to one recent study, people who monitored their smartphones for work-related tasks after 9 p.m. slept less at night and felt less energized at work the next day.

8. They keep their rooms chilly.

We're all in hibernation mode this time of year, and the idea of a toasty bedroom and piles of soft, fuzzy blankets is very appealing. But being too warm can make it harder to log quality sleep, say experts at the National Sleep Foundation.

Instead, they recommend keeping your bedroom at around 65 degrees, which research suggests is the optimal temperature for great sleep. Of course, everyone's perfect temperature is slightly different, so experiment to find what works best for you. If 65 degrees leaves you shivering all night, try turning the thermostat up a degree or two.

9. They go to bed at the same time every night.

Consistency is key to healthy sleep. Though it's tempting to stay up late, then get up early for work and sleep in on the weekend, doing so can wreak havoc on your body's internal clock.

Over time, that can make it harder to fall asleep, not to mention making it more unpleasant to wake up in the morning. Instead, do yourself the favor of saying no to one more episode of Homeland and going to sleep already. You'll thank yourself in the morning.

Prioritizing the role of healthy sleep in your life can help you feel a little more super, while boosting your health, looks and brain. If you aren't naturally a super sleeper, integrating rest-promoting habits like these into your day and priming your bedroom for shut-eye can both help you spend more time in dreamland.

Which of these habits are part of your routine, or what do you do to get better sleep? Share in the comments.

Firas Kittaneh is the CEO of Amerisleep, an eco-friendly luxury mattress company. Firas writes more posts on the Amerisleep blog about getting better sleep, healthy living and being eco-friendly. Follow him on Twitter.