Today we’re starting a new series in this column, Healthy Habits. Recently, we looked at 13 ways to be healthier in 2013. (Click to read more on that and view the slide show.) But sometimes seeing everything on a big list is too overwhelming. You want to change, but it’s hard to get going. Change happens most effectively when it’s gradual and easy to incorporate into our routines, so to help you ease into a new, healthier lifestyle, we’re going to break down that list and look at each of these habits, one by one. So let’s take a look at how you can improve your sleep habits in 2013.
Sleep may not seem like a big deal, but it can have a significant impact on our overall health. Ideally, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. There will always be the occasional late night or early morning, getting up to tend to a sick child or staying up to finish a project, but the goal is to average seven to eight hours. Though it is possible to get too much sleep (Who are these people?), it’s much more common to get too little. We already know that a lack of sleep makes us irritable and forgetful. But more importantly, too little sleep contributes to higher risks for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and depression. So it makes sense to do your best to get enough sleep each night.
That’s great, you say, but how? Well, the answer isn’t always easy. But the bottom line is, just like you commit to going to work every day or hitting the gym or even watching your favorite shows, you’ve got to commit to getting enough sleep. That doesn’t mean you have to be in bed at 8 p.m. every night. (Again, who are these people?) But it does mean you’ve got to take a serious look at your schedule and make some adjustments.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself regarding your sleep patterns.
Are you overcommitted? Take a good, honest look at your schedule. Are you doing too much? If you’ve got ongoing appointments and responsibilities from sunup to sundown, and even beyond, that answer is yes. We all have days when things back up and you’ve got to run one child to ballet practice and another to piano lessons and swing by the store for cat food and then help someone with homework before reviewing notes for tomorrow morning’s budget meeting. But those days should be few and far between, not your everyday life. If you’re having more of those days than less, you need to cut back.
Do you rely on caffeine to get yourself through the day? A cup of coffee or tea in the morning is one thing, but if you’re crashing in the afternoon and drinking more, or consuming sodas or energy drinks, you’re forcing your body out of its natural habits with caffeine and chemicals.
Do you surf the internet, play games, watch TV, or text right before going to bed? Electronics can make our lives much more convenient, but they can also ruin our health. Being constantly connected to our devices can strain our eyes due to the light from the displays. Plus that feeling of always being “on” can make it more difficult for our brains to settle down for sleep. That email will be there in the morning. And so will your game of Words With Friends. Power down your devices—or charge them—so you can power down and recharge yourself.
Are you often sleepy several hours before bedtime? If you’re about to nod off after dinner but the kids haven’t even had their baths yet, your body’s trying to tell you something.
Do you have a hard time staying asleep? The Boise Healthy Living Examiner has battled insomnia over the course of many years and feels your pain here. If you’re waking up repeatedly during the night, you’re not getting the full benefit of restorative sleep.
Do you wake up tired? Whether you get up early or sleep a little later, you should always wake up refreshed, not wanting to go back to bed. One reason may be sleep apnea, which you can read more about in this article.
And the obvious question is this: Are you really getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night? If not, it’s time to switch to a healthier habit in 2013.
By now you have a good idea of what’s keeping you awake. Now let’s look at some ways to help you get more, and better quality, sleep each night.
Get to bed earlier. Well, that’s pretty much a no-brainer, but for most of us it’s easier said than done. If you routinely stay up to watch the evening news or some other show, consider going to bed 15 minutes earlier. You can check the weather in the morning, or record your favorite show to watch another time if it’s that captivating.
Get up a little later. Again, for most of us this is not a why but a how. Think carefully about your morning routine. Can you do a few things the night before to give yourself more time for sleep? Making your lunch, setting out your clothes, and organizing your belongings the previous night can translate to an extra 15 or 20 minutes of shut eye.
Reclaim your schedule. If you’re overscheduled, figure out how you can cut back. Can someone else drive carpool one day a week, or can your spouse help out with errands? Can you delegate some tasks for that project to a coworker? Even if you only reclaim an hour or two each week, that’s better than nothing.
Skip the caffeine. Yep, that’s a tough one. But consider drinking decaffeinated versions of your favorite beverages, or just switch to water. Reducing your caffeine throughout the day will help your body relax at night.
Settle into a nighttime routine. Remember when your kids were babies and you encouraged sleep by giving them a warm bath, dressing them in cozy jammies, reading a book, and then gently laying them in their crib? That process works just as well for grownups. When you follow a routine, your mind and body understand that sleep is coming.
Give your electronics a rest. This is the best time to charge them up, so they’ll be fresh and ready in the morning, and so will you. At least an hour before bedtime, turn off the TV, your cell phone, your laptop and any other electronic devices you’re using. This is a great time to read a book, write in a journal, or go about preparing for the next day. Make your lunch, write out your To Do list, look over your child’s homework, meditate, or do some gentle stretching.
Make your bedroom inviting. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend a lot of money on paint and a whole new bedding set. But be sure that your bedroom is tidy, not cluttered with junk that never gets put away. When we see that clutter, our subconscious mind says, “Yuck. That’s giving me stress,” and that makes sleep less enjoyable. Avoid having electronics in your bedroom if at all possible. Get new pillows, warm blankets, and comfy sheets if need be, so you can really get a good night’s sleep.
If you do all of this and still have trouble getting enough sleep, it may be time to see a doctor. But hopefully those tips will help you develop at least one healthy habit in 2013, the habit of better and more restful sleep.
Talk it up:
Do you get enough sleep?
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