If a drug could help us live longer, lose weight, decrease our chances of chronic diseases, cancer, and dementia, help us recover from exercise more efficiently to improve athletic performance, all while making us smarter, more attractive, and emotionally stronger, it would be considered a miracle pill. But what if that “miracle cure” wasn’t a pill, but something everyone does every night? To raise awareness, World Sleep Day 2019 is themed “healthy sleep, healthy aging,” and it’s all about discovering that just a couple extra hours of high quality sleep per night can do all those things for us and more.
Many people know getting 7-9 hours a night of zzz’s is important for feeling rested, but an avalanche of new research is finding that it’s even more important to overall health and functioning than most people realize. The “healthy sleep and healthy aging” angle is supported by increasing evidence that living in line with our circadian rhythms—natural biological cycles of rest and wakefulness—may help us live longer. Optimizing our sleep quality and quantity goes a long way toward our long term, overall health.
Given all these amazing benefits, how can we get started reaping the benefits of better sleep? In celebration of World Sleep Day, we’ve compiled some of the most best tips for improving your sleep starting tonight.
Reduce Sleep Disturbances
One of the key ways to improve sleep quality is to stay asleep longer. Most of us wake slightly over 20 times per night—which is healthy and natural—but we often don’t remember waking up and might not be consciously aware if we’re deprived of the deeper stages of sleep. Things that can disrupt these deeper stages include temperature, light, and sound—even if we don’t remember being awake in the morning.
Lower The Temperature
Bedroom temperature is one of the most critical elements for a good night of sleep. Most people favor sleeping in a room about 70°F, but our natural circadian rhythms actually prefer a surrounding environment of 60-65°F, which might sound too cold for comfort. However with warm blankets, we naturally bundle up, and our bodies prefer these colder environments that fit with a natural decrease in body temperature as we sleep. This is one reason taking a hot bath before bed can help you sleep—not only does it relax you, it also causes your blood to flow to the surface of your skin, helping to cool you as you sleep.
Block Everything Out
Most people know a dark room without too much ambient sound can help you sleep, but many underestimate how much of a difference this actually makes. It’s particularly true that blue light from devices before sleep—maybe even as far back as 3 hours before sleep—can disrupt our sleep later that same night. Using a computer application, such as Flux, that filters blue light out of your screen can help. Using dim warm lights in your bedroom in the hours before bed helps too. Getting exposure to bright sunlight in the morning can also help adjust circadian rhythms to a daily routine and provide better sleep that night.
Sleep Better With Breathing Techniques
For people who have trouble falling asleep, progressive muscle relaxation techniques and biofeedback activities like the 4-7-8 breathing pattern (inhaling deeply through the nose for 4 seconds, holding breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling slowly for 8 seconds) can slow heart rate and calm the nervous system. Meditations such as those available on apps like Headspace can guide a listener through this technique.
Manage Your Sugars To Sleep Deeper
One of the most common reasons people wake up frequently in the night is fluctuating blood sugar. Avoid eating (especially processed foods and sweets/grains that spike the blood sugar and later crash it) in the last four hours before sleep. Avoiding too much water before sleep can also cut some of the nightly bathroom breaks.
Give Yourself a Longer Sleep Window
Giving oneself a larger window of opportunity for quality sleep can help every person improve their health and daily physical functions. People who sleep between 7-9 hours nightly on a regular basis have a 12% lower mortality rate than those who sleep less than that, and sleeping fewer than 5 hours can increase inflammation in the body. The science is clear: even the busiest people will benefit from giving themselves a sleep window of a full and consistent 7-9 hours each night.
For more tips on how to make the most of your rest time, take our featured sleep quiz.