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Key Ways to Get the Sleep You Need (When Your Routine Gets Messed Up)

By Sheryl Kraft

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While spontaneity is fun and can perk up an otherwise humdrum life, the fact remains that most of us are creatures of habit. We live a fairly scheduled life, and that includes wake times, meal times and when we turn in for the night.

So, what happens when our normal routine changes? I can bet with some certainty that even if you're one of the most organized and disciplined people around, your routine got thrown off during the holidays—an abbreviated work schedule topped off with lots of leisure and celebration time. And I can also bet that your sleep suffered.

Remember, while sleep requirements vary from person to person across the life span, most healthy adults need seven to nine hours a night—yet too few of us get the sleep we truly need.

And you want to excel in the sleep department: Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health and cognition problems, and even put your safety—and the safety of others—at risk.

Here are some tips so that the next time your normal routine gets interrupted, you can get the sleep your body needs.

  1. Manage your naps. Naps can boost alertness, improve your motor performance, lower tension and boost your mood. But nap too long and you may not wake refreshed. Rather, you may feel groggy and suffer from "sleep inertia," and you may have trouble sleeping at night. Experts recommend a nap of no more than 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Commit to an evening ritual. Rather than just fall into bed at the end of a busy day, give your body time to wind down and shift into "sleep mode." Some things that work especially well: reading, soothing music, a calming activity like knitting, and a warm bath. Make sure to shut down your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed. They emit blue light that can interfere with your sleep by interfering with your levels of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. (Yes, this includes television, too!)
  3. Watch what you eat and drink. Fatty, spicy, greasy foods can induce heartburn, which can keep you awake (and uncomfortable). Alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly but can disrupt sleep later in the evening and can lead to insomnia.
  4. Wake up at the same time. This one is hotly debated: Can you make up for sleep debt by "sleeping in"? Although hitting the snooze button might be tempting, most experts agree that getting up at the same time—even if you didn't get much sleep the night before—will help get your normal sleep routine back on track.
  5. Keep up with your exercise routine. It's tough, sometimes, to keep your exercise commitments when your schedule is nearly nonexistent. But try to do something, even if it's not your usual 45-minute workout. Research shows that just one bout of moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking, can both reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the quality of sleep.

More reading:
Caffeine's Jolt Can Sometimes Be Short-Lived
8 Ways to Fail at Your New Year's Resolutions
Sleep May Help People Process Traumatic Events

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