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Thursday, November 6, 2008

How to get good sleep

  1. Get on schedule. Varying your sleeping times by more than an hour can severely disrupt your sleep quality by "advancing the sleep phase". For example, let's say you normally wake up at 7 a.m. on weekdays to get to work, so you get to bed around 11 p.m. because that's when you start to feel sleepy (and it's also a good time to ensure 8 hours of sleep). If, on the weekend, you sleep in until 9 a.m., you probably won't be able to fall asleep that night until 1 a.m. again. In other words, your body thrives on running on a routine; erratic sleeping sessions will interfere with your internal "biological clock". For some people, and depending on work and routine, a very short rest in the afternoon (the Spanish call it the siesta) could help alleviate drowsiness some people experience during the day. But make sure not to oversleep.

  2. Be mindful of what you have eaten or drunk before bed. Your stomach should not be too full, but not too empty. Wait at least three hours after dinner before going to sleep. Digestion doesn't work well while asleep, and a full stomach may interrupt sleep. Do not eat heavy foods for the few hours prior to sleep. Similarly, you should avoid going to bed on an empty stomach, as a completely empty stomach may equally interfere with your sleeping patterns.[1] Switch to decaf coffee and avoid tea, cocoa and cola drinks. Caffeine can keep you awake even if you drank it earlier in the day, as the effects of caffeine last for about 8 hours. Avoid tobacco products in the evenings as well. Try to avoid drinking water or other fluids one hour before you go to sleep, but make sure you drink at least 2 litres of water during the day. A well hydrated body will not wake you up thirsty in the middle of the night. While alcohol will make you feel sleepy, it will reduce sleep quality. If you find that your stomach is grumbling for food and is keeping you awake, have a light snack about an hour before bedtime. Stick to foods that contain high levels of tryptophan, such as milk, turkey, yogurt, ice cream, soy beans, tuna, and peanuts. Tryptophan helps the body produce serotonin in order to relax.[2]
  3. Keep the room dark. Exposure to light during the time you're supposed to be sleeping can disrupt your body's internal cycles. This has been documented in studies surrounding circadian rhythms.[3] Turn your light off, or use a very dim night light. Pull curtains across, blinds down or shut the shutters, to prevent outdoor lights from shining on you. If you wake up and see any kind of bright light, you'll have a much harder time falling back asleep. Try to eliminate all sources of light, including from windows, LED clocks and cable boxes, by covering them with heavy paper or cloth covers, or blue tack.
  4. Change your sleeping position. You may think that it's impossible to control what position you sleep in since you aren't fully aware of what you are doing, but it is possible and it can make a considerable difference. When you go to sleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night, make a conscious effort to follow these guidelines until it becomes habitual:

    • Keep your body in a "mid-line" position, where both your head and neck are kept roughly straight. Don't use a flat pillow that causes your head to tilt down toward the mattress. Likewise, don't stack your pillows so that your head is propped at an angle.
    • Place a pillow between your legs if you sleep on your side. This will support your hips and make this position more comfortable.
    • Place a pillow under your legs, if you sleep on your back, to take stress off your lower back.
    • Avoid sleeping on your stomach. It's difficult to maintain the mid-line position, and it is more likely to cause aches and pains. If you must, bend one arm upwards and place it under your pillow. This will help alleviate stress on your back and neck by slightly propping up your body on one side.

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