Sleep, that is.
Essential for your health and wellbeing (not to mention you mood!), a good nights’ sleep is elusive for so many of us: according to NSF (National Sleep Foundation) surveys indicate that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders. (Did you even realize there could be so many sleep disorders? I didn’t).
And 60 percent of adults report experiencing sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Not only will a poor night’s rest result in a poor mood and compromised attention the next day, but lack of sleep can suppress your immune system function, leaving you more vulnerable to colds, flu and other ailments.
So, how much is enough?
Sleep needs very according to age. They’re also impacted by lifestyle and health. Some people feel happy and productive and wide-awake after six hours of sleep (I’m sadly not one of them). Others swear they don’t feel well unless they log a solid seven or eight hours. People’s needs vary, as do the numbers. Research says that there is no “magic number.” A 2005 study confirms this: sleep needs, it says, varies across populations, and further research is needed to identify traits hidden within genes that can unravel the mystery of needs vary so widely among people.
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Sleep Health (or ways to get a good night’s sleep)
Here are 10 tips for sleep success:
- Avoid caffeine after 2:00 PM. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, meaning that six hours after you take your last sip, half the caffeine remains in your body. Not a good thing if caffeine keeps you awake. (To gauge the effects of caffeine on your sleep, eliminate all caffeine from your diet for one week. If you are truly addicted and can’t go cold turkey, taper off gradually.)
- Avoid alcohol three hours before bed. While a nightcap might make you feel sleepy, the truth is that rather than being a sedative, alcohol is a central nervous system suppressant and in quantities, becomes a stimulant.
- If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is an even stronger stimulant than coffee. Not to mention all its other unsafe health effects. Nuff said.
- Eat well. Foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan can cause sleepiness. Foods high in tryptophan include milk (soy milk as well), yogurt, beef liver, venison, calf’s liver, chicken and turkey breast, halibut, cod, tuna, scallops. Studies also find that eating easily digested carbs – like cereal, rice, potatoes or white bread – can help you fall asleep faster, if eaten four hours before bedtime. Avoid large meals too close to bedtime.
- Keep to your schedule. Stick to the same bedtime and wakeup time. Staying on schedule helps regulate your body’s clock. It’s best to do this seven days a week, even on the weekends when you may be tempted to stay up later and sleep well into the morning. Realistic? Not sure. But worth a try.
- Establish a ritual. A warm bath or a meditation helps put a divider between activities that rev you up and bedtime.
- Avoid bright lights. Some research shows that exposure to bright light before bed disrupts sleep. And blue light, which is emitted from electronic devices like iPads and computers (even TVs), can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
- Exercise daily. Aside from its myriad health benefits, exercise helps you sleep deeper and more efficiently. The jury is out as to the best time of day; some think exercising too close to bedtime is a bad idea, while others recommend working out between 5:00 and 7:00 PM.
- Keep naps brief. If you must nap, keep it at 15-20 minutes to avoid nighttime sleep problems.
- Keep your bedroom cool. Temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit are more conducive to better sleep.
Sheryl Kraft’s work has appeared in various print and online publications including AARP, Prevention, WebMD, Woman’s Day, Everyday Health, Grandparents.com, HealthyWomen.org, Senior Planet, JAMA, Weight Watchers, Bottom Line/Health, Bottom Line/Women’s Health, Caring Today, Westchester Magazine and more. She lives in her empty nest with her husband, Alan, and enjoys weekly Sunday visits from her two hungry 26 and 28-year-old sons (who also occasionally bring a load of laundry). When she's not working, Sheryl enjoys exercising, reading, walking and biking the neighborhood, seeing Broadway shows and spending time with friends. Visit Sheryl's website at www.sherylkraft.com or her two blogs, MySoCalledMidlilfe and Midlife Matters.