6 Secrets to Better Sleep

If your sleep quality has taken a nosedive in the past several months, you’re not alone. Here’s how to get the kind of sleep you dream about—or would, if only your dreams weren’t so strange these days. More on that too!

Forget sleeping like a baby (after all, they wake up every three hours in tears!): What most of us want these days is to sleep like it’s 2019 again. “Many people had insomnia before COVID-19, and that number is only getting higher”, says Raj Dasgupta, M.D., a sleep medicine expert at the University of Southern California and a member of the Prevention Advisory Board.

Some people can pinpoint the exact stressors that are new, such as money, illness, and worry about loved ones. But for a lot of others, it isn’t one single thing that’s been keeping them awake these past several months. It’s as if the heightened state of the world has taken up residence in our brains, keeping them from shutting down to rest. You may be lying awake much longer than you’re used to sleeping more lightly, or both. The good news is, no matter what the exact problem is. you can get the shut-eye you crave and here’s how:

Fall Asleep Faster

About 36% of American adults report drinking three or more cups of coffee during the day—but that habit might be detrimental to sleep. One or two cups is fine. Dr. Dasgupta explains, “but after that third or fourth cup. you’re going to get all the negative side effects of caffeine and not the alerting”. We know, coffee is life—so give yourself a week or so to cut down. Track your intake (even coffee lovers might be surprised at how much they’re actually drinking), look for alternatives you like, and focus on really savoring the cup or two you drink in the morning.

The great window open / window shut debate between couples has a simple solution: The best way is whatever will bring the room temperature into the low to mid-60s. That’s what the National Sleep Foundation says is ideal for sleep. Think about what else can help your temp drop, like cotton pajamas, cooling sheets, or a bath.

If your dreams have seemed more vivid lately, it might have something to do with how well you’re sleeping overall. “As a general rule, memories of our dreams quickly fade”, Dr. Dasgupta explains. “But stress can trigger intense dreams, and sleep deprivation can lead to more intense dreaming”. There’s no scientific evidence on what those dreams really mean, but experts say they tend to reflect our worries (not always literally, of course!). So work on your overall sleep hygiene if you want to avoid the weirdness, and add meditation to your routine to get your brain into a calmer state.

Melatonin is a compound naturally released by the body that makes you sleepy and helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Some people need more than their bodies= produce, and the substance is synthesized and turned into OTC pills. Dr. Dasgupta says it can be worth a try, but timing is key: Melatonin should be taken two hours before you want to fall asleep rather than as part of your bedtime routine. (Remember, always talk to your doctor if you take supplements; it helps them treat you better.)

Sleep More Deeply

Eating late is linked to poor sleep, Dr. Dasgupta says. Digesting food while asleep can give you heartburn that causes you to stir, which means “you won’t get to those deeper stages of sleep”, he says. Try not to eat during the two hours before bedtime, and definitely avoid foods likely to cause heartburn, including caffeine, tomatoes, and chocolate. If you really crave an after-dinner treat, go for almonds or a banana—both
contain melatonin.

Dr. Dasgupta is the first to admit that alcohol will make you sleepy—but that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice. “Alcohol can cause multiple awakenings and arousals the second half of the night”, he says, whether from interrupted sleep or more trips to the bathroom. A glass of wine with dinner is fine while alcohol late in the evening or as a sleep aid is not.

Along with the anxiety of catching up on the news before bed. the blue light emitted by switched-on screens can also cause restlessness. Even after you’ve shut off your device, the effects of the light stick with you. because blue light suppresses melatonin. Dr. Dasgupta explains. Use blue-light-blocking glasses, or switch your device to night mode, which yellows the screen. Even better, though, is to leave the phone in another room (get out the old alarm clock!) and read or write before bed instead.

What do you think?

Written by Peter Gonzales


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