Tamara Weston
March 13, 2015 12:06 pm

Today is World Sleep Day, that special time of year when we come together to gripe about how little sleep we really get.

Recently, the National Sleep Foundation released some new recommendations on how much we humans of the world should be sleeping every night. If you’re between the ages of 14-17, you should be getting 8.5-9.5 hours a night; if you’re between the ages of 18-64, you need 7-9 hours a night. If you’re between the ages of 0-100, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “wow, I need to be getting more sleep.”

If you have a tough time falling asleep at night, you’re in good company. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related issues. These problems can be anything from sleep apnea to waking up a lot during the night to chronic insomnia. Considering what we know about the benefits of sleep for, well, pretty much all aspects of our life, this is one crazy statistic.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to getting sleepy the moment you realize you’re having a tough time dozing off, unless you want to put all your faith in Nyquil (not recommended). For a long-term solution, changes usually need to be made much earlier in the day, to prepare your body for rest later on. Getting quality shut-eye has more to do with what experts call “sleep hygiene,” or habits that are conducive to a good night’s sleep. If you’re one of those 70 million Americans, try implementing these before calling your doctor or signing up for a sleep clinic. These minor adjustments to your life could be exactly what you’ve been looking for. And when good sleep means everything for our health and minds and even our moods, don’t you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try? Yes, you say? Awesome. Now listen up. We’re going to talk through some ways to get the whole rest thing under control.

First repeat after me: your bedroom is a sanctuary. Ommmm. Seriously, if you really want to catch some ZZZ’s, you need to create a space ideal for just that.

1. Disassociate your bedroom with your sleep struggle

The moment you start feeling restless is the moment you need to get out of bed and go to another room. Sleep experts at Johns Hopkins suggest walking around your home or reading — any non-stimulating activities to get you sleepy again are good, so long as it’s not inside your bedroom. It’s important your bed always be a place where you can fall asleep rather than where the trouble begins.

2. Get rid of clutter

If you keep a desk in your room piled with bills or papers from work, it’s time to move it out. Anything causing clutter in your bedroom should either be cleaned up or moved elsewhere. These things can subconsciously cause you anxiety, especially when they’re related to stressful aspects of your life. Having them in your bedroom doesn’t help to create a peaceful space for you to sleep.

3. Choose calming colors

Researchers have studied the psychology of colors and certain hues have the power to positively affect our moods. Cool colors like blue, green and lavender are said to be restful colors for the eye and promote relaxation.

4. Keep fresh scents around

According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, “71% of Americans said they get a more comfortable night’s sleep on sheets with a fresh scent.” If that’s not a case for doing laundry then I don’t know what is. Try washing your sheets and pillowcases at least once a week and alternate with a spare set. Make sure you actually like the smell of the laundry detergent you use because scent is important! And while we’re on the topic, it’s also suggested that a lavender scent has a calming effect on adults by decreasing our heart rate and blood pressure. Studies even show that those who sniffed lavender before bed experience more deep sleep at night.

5. Keep it cool

Sleep experts say that your bedroom temperature should be somewhere around 65° when you sleep. Our core body temperature naturally cools down when we are catching our ZZZZZ’s, and begins to rise as we start to wake up. If your bedroom is too warm at night, your body can’t naturally achieve what it wants, and will end up keeping you awake. Make sure you’re sleeping on the right stuff, too; some cotton-blend sheets and even memory foam mattresses trap heat, thereby elevating your body temperature.

Getting quality sleep goes beyond the bedroom and deep into daily life. Here are some tweaks to make to your every-day routine.

6. Consistency is key

Experts say that consistency and structure in your daily routine can have an impact on how well you sleep. Not everyone has a 9 to 5, but simple routines like going to bed and waking up at the exact same times every day can actually help your body get in sync again. According to a 2013 study published in the National Institute of Health, “Structured daily activities, such as work and scheduled social interactions, are thought to serve as zeitgebers,” which are like external cues that help the brain synchronize your body to the environment. In other words, more zeitgebers means your internal clock can function better and understand when you should be in sleep mode or awake mode. Any kind of consistency on a daily basis helps.

7. Coffee talk

We know caffeine is a stimulant, but did you know it can take up to six hours for half the caffeine from your morning cup of joe to leave your body? Make sure to reserve those coffee breaks for earlier in the day, or, kick the habit altogether if you’re seriously searching for those ZZZ’s at night.

8. Nix the nightcap

We tend to reach for a glass of vino in the evening to unwind or relax, and in a way you’re on the right track. Alcohol does help us fall asleep, but it’s also deceiving because your sleep quality actually suffers long term, and so will your performance the following day. Sleep experts at Johns Hopkins found that alcohol actually reduces the time spent in deep sleep stages, since the body starts to metabolize the alcohol in the second stage of sleep, causing you to wake up. This is why you tend to wake up so early after a heavy night of drinking. Mystery solved!

So you’ve rearranged your bedroom, everything smells like lavender, you’ve quit alcohol and coffee altogether, and you’re about to get ready for bed. Now what?

9. Put a record on

Ever stopped to think why we listened to lullabies as kids right before naptime or bedtime? The International Journal of Nursing Studies has linked music to more deep sleep. According to the study, listening to soothing music for about 45 minutes before bedtime proved an effective therapy to improve sleep quality for adults suffering from insomnia. It shortened stage 2 sleep and prolonged REM sleep.

So what exactly IS the deal with all the devices we use. We hear it’s not good to keep them near us when we sleep, but why?

Experts at Harvard Medical School say that devices like iPads, cell phones, computer screens and even energy efficient light bulbs produce light in the blue part of the spectrum — the most sleep-sabotaging of all light. Blue light emits wavelengths similar to daylight, creates stimulation in the brain, and deceives our bodies into thinking it’s daytime when it’s actually nighttime. This disrupts our entire internal system, and even delays the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Less light means more melatonin to make you drowsy and fall asleep, but when blue light appears, our bodies don’t know they should be going into sleep mode

Here are a few ways to deal with this and at the very least, lessen the harmful effect our devices have on our sleep.

10. Put your gadgets in another room

Some research says to avoid looking at those screens a whole two hours before getting into bed, while other research suggests powering down 30 minutes prior to bedtime is sufficient. Either way, this means not only shutting everything down, but putting things away, far from where you sleep so your eyes don’t accidentally catch that blue light in the middle of the night.

11. Invest in darkness

Using blackout shades in your bedroom or a sleep mask can also help. A lot of street lamps today are lit with energy-efficient light bulbs, which also give off blue light. If some of that light enters your bedroom it can mislead your internal clock into thinking it’s daylight, and your body will begin the process of waking up.

12. Get outdoors

Expose yourself to lots of natural light during the day so your body begins to recognize the difference at night.

13. Get red clocks

If you need alarm clocks or any other light in your room, make sure to use red light, the least disruptive kind of light.

For most of us young adults, a lack of sleep or trouble falling asleep or getting quality sleep can pretty much be chalked up to the busy, stressful lives we lead. So many places to go, people to see, and stuff to think about! But our beauty rest cannot be underestimated. Sleep is crucial to your well-being, and making small adjustments doesn’t have to cost you a dime. You just need to realize it’s worth it.

[Images via Shutterstock]

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