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How to Optimize Sleep?

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What happens to you and your health when you lack optimal sleep? Get the best rest, regardless of your work schedule. Use “awake time” for better slumber.

Create bedtime rituals and a nurturing bedroom environment. Incorporate all aspects of health for your best sleep. Last week you learned the basics about sleep. Now it’s time to put strategies into action to get the quality and quantity of ZZZs you need to keep you energized, healthy, and happy.

What happens when I don’t meet my sleep quota?

It’s a common issue: About one in three adults in the U.S. fail to get enough sleep regularly, ac- cording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chronic sleep deprivation causes many health problems, including irritability, anxiety, lethargy, depression, foggy thinking, lack of focus, reduced vigilance, poor coordination, fatigue, obesity, heart attacks, diabetes, and an increased risk of injuries and fatalities. These concerns are especially relevant to you if you are a shift worker. Shift work involves staying awake for three or more hours from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am for at least 50 days of the year. And it isn’t just a work schedule that can put you in the “shift work” category. Maybe you’re a caregiver to someone at home who is awake at varying times. Perhaps you are a parent of an infant, or you have a coexisting physical or mental issue that interferes with your sleep—or maybe you watch TV or surf the internet late into the night.

Sadly, many people try to “fix” or cope with fatigue and inability to sleep by depending on coffee, tea, energy drinks, or drugs to wake up; or alcohol and other medications to go to sleep. These methods don’t work and cause other health risks. You can implement many health strategies to improve your quality and quantity of rest.

At Work:

You can help or hurt a night’s sleep by how you handle your work schedule. Of course, this depends on your work schedule. If you are a shift worker, your program has inherent, and sometimes

unavoidable, sleep obstacles. Occupationally, a shift worker works during the evenings, overnight, or early morning. Shift workers are more likely to report problems falling asleep (daytime sleeping can be challenging), restless sleep, or excessive sleepiness and feelings of fatigue. If this is your situation, take nap breaks seriously if permitted. Even 15 minutes of sleep can offer your brain and body some recovery. If you work a regular day shift and suffer from afternoon drowsiness, skip the caffeine and vending machine temptations. You can find a more energizing and cost-effective solution in a big glass of ice water, a brisk walk, a 10-minute meditation, or chatting with a friend.

At Home:

Prioritizing and following a good sleep routine at home can make a vital difference to your health and well-being. Be sure to avoid caffeinated beverages at least eight hours before whatever you deem your “bedtime.” And skip the alcohol—it may seem like it enhances sleepiness, but alcohol will ultimately disrupt your sleep. If you do shift work that disrupts your regular sleep schedule, you may need to plan some catch-up sleeping. Finally, apply the following at-home strategies where they are relevant.

During Your Awake Hours:

Practice these strategies while you are awake to help you to sleep more restfully later:

Get Natural Light: Sunlight helps your body regulate hormones and neurotransmitters that alert you—you’ll still get enough daylight even when it is cloudy. Use bright lights during the day if you can’t get outside.

Stay Out of Your Bedroom: Aim to keep your bedroom for sleep and sex. Do all of your other activities outside of your bedroom.

At Sleep Time:

Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as sleep hygiene. Here are the steps to good sleep practices:

Stay Regular: Have a set bed and wake-up time on your days off. You’ll sleep better and feel more alert during the day. Assuming you lose several hours of sleep during workdays, always aim to spend at least nine hours in bed during your off days. That means that if you go to bed at 9 pm, you will get up between 6 am and later.

Establish a Bedtime Ritual: Brush your teeth, take a shower, read a book, write in your journal, listen to some soothing music, and do a quiet or guided meditation—any quiet activity will do to relieve stress and prepare your mind and body for a good night sleep. Use a dim light on your nightstand instead of a bright overhead light during bedtime.

Makeover Your Room

Make a few adjustments to make your bedroom a sleep haven.

Ditch the screens: Around 64% of adults have a TV in their primary bedroom. It needs to go! The light from television screens, laptops, tablets, and digital clocks can interfere with sleep.

Check Your Bed: If you don’t have a comfortable and supportive mattress, invest in one now. The life expectancy of a mattress is about ten years. Also, ensure that your sheets, blanket, and pillows suit you.

Be calm: We sleep better in rooms between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shut out Noise: Heep it quiet. If you live in a noisy environment, consider buying a white noise machine, wearing earplugs, or downloading a white noise app on your smartphone (just make sure you put the smartphone screen face down on your nightstand).

Make it Dark: Also, buy blackout curtains or shades to make your room dark (especially if you need to sleep during the day).

Clear out Clutter: You want your room to be a haven where you can rest. Move work projects, mail, gadgets, and other chaos out of your sleep space.

Banish Your Pets: This might be more difficult than getting rid of the TV in your bedroom, but sleeping with Fido, Fluffy, or both can disrupt your sleep—especially if pets share the bed, according to a Mayo Clinic Study.

Time Your Eating

What you eat impacts your sleep quality research indicates that eating within a 10-hour window during the day will help you sleep better and feel more energized. Plan to eat your last meal so that it ends two to three hours before you go to bed. This strategy, called time-restricted eating (TRE), gives your body time to digest, which can interfere with sleep and many of your body’s repair processes.

Incorporate all 4 Pillars for Your Best Health

Sleep is one of the four essential pillars of health and well-being. Make sure you follow all four pillars for good health (Blog 1) — sleep, nutrition, exercise, and emotional balance. Incorporating all four posts has a positive ripple effect, and strengthening the pillars improves sleep.

You’ll quickly fortify the above three pillars by developing better sleep habits. After a poor night’s sleep, you lack the energy you need to do your regular workout, your nerves are on edge, and everyday tasks seem overwhelming. You’ll be more likely to give in to eating sugary or fatty foods after a restless night, and you may find that you have less control of your moods and are more likely to blow up or meltdown at your colleagues, family, or friends. You were well-rested benefits you and your family, friends, and co-workers—even the cashier at the grocery store, the gas station attendant, or those sitting in neighboring cars during rush-hour traffic.

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