09/24/2013 08:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sleep Like A Baby

Ondrea Barbe / Trunk Archive

By Caroline Schaefer

"Sleep like a baby" isn't simply an expression -- it's also a directive from health experts. "When it comes to getting rest, adults should do things more like infants do," says renowned sleep expert James Maas, Ph.D., author of Sleep for Success and Power Sleep. "Adults are always trying to work both ends of the clock, staying up late, getting up early. They treat sleep as a luxury and it is not. It's a necessity and babies already know that." Even when babies have a packed schedule (you cannot miss yoga, they have to get to Gymboree), they never let deadlines, or stress, or "Scandal" episodes sap their sleep -- nor do babies consider it a badge of honor to get by on as little rest as possible. To adopt smarter habits, steal these strategies from little ones.

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Get On A Schedule
Babies crave routine -- snack at 10 a.m., nap at noon, bedtime at 7 p.m. -- and there's a biological reason why. "If you stick to a schedule, your body is more alert than if you slept for the same total amount of time at varying hours during the week," says Maas. "And over time, having such regularity actually lowers the total sleep time required for maximum daytime alertness." In other words, if you keep your bedtime and wakeup time roughly the same each day, you'll more easily bounce back when you don't catch enough zzzs.

Create A Nightly Power-Down Ritual
Most parents don't just drop a baby in his crib and say, "Sleep tight." Typically, babies get set with a bath, books and maybe a lullaby or two. These days, winding down for 30 to 60 minutes before bed can work wonders. "In order to sleep soundly through the night, your body needs to prepare itself for the long period of inactivity ahead," says Maas. "It needs a buffer between the day's stress and the night's rest." Try taking a hot shower or reading a book or magazine. (Sorry, but you should skip the Kindle or iPad: Exposure to artificial light before bedtime significantly suppresses levels of melatonin, hindering the body’s ability to fall asleep, according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism).

Pay Attention To Position
For babies and adults alike, proper sleeping position is a serious health matter. While newborns need to be positioned on their backs to prevent SIDS (until they are able to roll over independently), adults should do their best to assume a side-lying sleep position, says Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor. "Sleeping on your back is less ideal because the airway can relax too much, which can cause snoring and disruptions in breathing like sleep apnea," says Kennedy. "These issues are much less prominent when sleeping on one side. The side-lying position is also better for spinal alignment, whereas stomach sleeping can cause back and neck problems."

"There is a normal dip in alertness, typically between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., but it's exacerbated if you're sleep-deprived," says Maas. "Adults do best if they mimic the baby's schedule and take at least a 15- to 20-minute power nap around that time. It's just enough to restore your energy and mood, but not long enough to make you groggy or disrupt your nighttime sleep." And while a Pew Research Center survey found that 30 percent of adults already take naps, perhaps we should be pushing for a napping nation: Adding in a few quick snooze sessions can help avoid accidents, illness, heart attacks, strokes, mood shifts, irritability, anxiety, depression and obesity, says Maas.



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