Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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In these days of raging disagreements, there's one thing almost everyone can agree on: how important sleep is and how lousy we feel when we don't get enough of it. Without adequate shuteye, we compromise things like our health, hormone levels, moods and weight.
And still, the struggle continues. Each night, millions of Americans toss and turn, yearning for that elusive sleep.
Our united mission: To get the best quality and quantity of sleep we can manage.
Our collective problem: Sometimes without even realizing it, there are forces well within our control that sabotage our sleep.
Our job: To identify these saboteurs and find ways to eliminate them, so we can rest easy.
When you consider that more than 85 percent of mammals sleep for short periods throughout the day, and people of many cultures depend on their beloved afternoon siesta, it's easy to see how valuable naps can be. They help improve your mood, make you more alert and able to think and perform better, reducing mistakes and accidents. For many, there's nothing more refreshing or luxurious than a nap.
But … there is a "sweet spot" with naps; a certain time span that makes a nap helpful, not potentially harmful.
Recommendation: Take a short nap, lasting 20 to 30 minutes. A longer nap can result in grogginess and grouchiness (aka "sleep inertia") or can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. And don't take it too late in the day, because it might interfere with your bedtime.
Exercise has so many benefits when it comes to our health and slumber. It can improve daytime sleepiness by reducing levels of inflammatory markers that cause many conditions like obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea. Exercise can also help with both the quality and duration of sleep, as well as serve as a natural aid to reduce chronic insomnia.
But … If we exercise too close to bedtime, it could hurt our sleep. That's because exercise raises both core body temperature (which needs to be low to regulate your circadian rhythms and induce sleep) and adrenaline levels. Rather than relax us, it can rev us up.
Recommendation: Although research and expert opinions are mixed on its effect on sleep, if done too close to bedtime—and if you're the type of person that finds it tough to settle down after a late-night exercise session—it's best to exercise earlier in the day or night and give your body a few hours to settle down before turning in.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the majority of the nation's adult population suffers from chronic pain. That translates to a lot of lost sleep, because pain can interfere with sleep duration and sleep quality. And that becomes a vicious cycle: Pain can cause you to awaken multiple times each night, and sleep deprivation can lower your pain threshold. Pain also causes stress, and stress can prevent sleep, or suddenly rouse you out of a deep sleep.
But … Because up to two-thirds of people with chronic pain conditions suffer from sleep disorders, the cycle must be broken. Many times, treating insomnia has a helpful effect on lessening chronic pain. And then again, treating pain can help lessen insomnia.
Recommendation: Numerous studies have linked the benefits of massage and sleep.Massage is a proven, natural way to help reduce pain, decrease swelling that can lead to pain, and improve blood circulation to boost healing. Massage also helps reduce bruising and muscle fatigue. And, it can easily be done at home with something like Wahl's Hot/Cold Therapy Massager, which helps relieve muscle tension and soreness that can contribute to pain and, hence, lost sleep. In addition to reducing pain, massage can help with stiffness and flexibility, so that after a good night's sleep, you not only awaken refreshed but feeling more energetic and mobile to start your day.
Relief at your fingertips.
It's no coincidence that with the advent of artificial light, sleeping patterns changed. People moved further away from their natural sleep patterns (which was to sleep in two shifts, with a bit of awake-time in between). Light, which is one of the most crucial external forces affecting sleep, can hinder or delay our internal clock and push our bedtime later and later. For people who have trouble waking in the mornings, exposure to bright light helps stimulate alertness. On the flip side, light can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, disrupting the body's circadian rhythm and suppressing melatonin production (a sleep-inducing hormone).
But … Light is everywhere, so how do you avoid it?
Recommendation: Keep your phone away from you when you sleep (or turn it off altogether). Don't use artificially lit screens before bed (like cell phones, tablets, laptops or televisions), which emit a blue light, a type of light with a short wavelength that produces a high amount of energy. Turn your alarm clock so it faces away from you, and use light at night only when absolutely necessary. To protect your eyes from light even more, wear a light-blocking sleep mask to bed.
5. Not having a ritual
A nighttime ritual is an important part of your day—a way to separate day from night and move from commotion to calm. If you fall into bed at the end of the day and expect to fall right to sleep, you're likely setting yourself up for failure.
But … It's tough to find time to wind down.
Recommendation: Plan and practice a relaxing routine. Start by dimming the lights, which can clue your body into producing melatonin. Turn down the thermostat—the ideal temperature for sleeping is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, says the National Sleep Foundation. Other rituals you can easily do:
- Stash all digital devices.
- Take a warm shower or bath.
- Sip some herbal tea.
- Clear your mind by creating a to-do list for the next day.
- Resist talking on the phone too close to bedtime.
- Reflect on the pleasant things that happened that day, and write them in a gratitude journal.
- Meditate, stretch or practice some yoga poses.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and high-fat foods right before bed.
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