We all know how important a good night’s sleep is to our overall health and athletic recovery. But aches and pains, stress and a restless mind can sometimes keep us from getting the sleep we need. In fact, a recent survey by CareerBuilder indicates that three in five workers don’t get enough sleep. This deprivation, those surveyed said, makes the day go by slower, reduces motivation, curbs productivity, affects memory and more.
Instead of counting sheep, we asked some experts for their tips:
According to Dr. Richard Shane, a behavioral sleep specialist, there are a few things you can do before bedtime to help you fall asleep and get the rest you need.
1. Take a warm bath. For a natural relaxant, add lavender, either to the water or as a scented candle, says Shane.
2. Don’t watch upsetting television programs prior to bedtime. These shows can activate your nervous system so it takes longer to unwind and relax, he says.
3. Stop drinking three hours before bed. Drink a lot of fluids during the day to stay hydrated, and then stop drinking at least three hours before bedtime. This way, Shane says you’ll avoid waking up for a bathroom break during the night.
4. Turn off your computer and bright lights. He also says that bright light in your room and from your gadgets can block the brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Instead, try dimming the lights and reading a book — not an e-reader — to relax.
5. Support your spine. “Use a pillow that supports your cervical spine and a mattress that is firm enough to support your lumbar spine,” says Misa Zaker, DC. This will help you get a better night’s sleep and avoid waking up with a stiff neck and other pains.
6. Review your medications. Beta-blockers used for managing blood pressure and heart issues can cause insomnia in some people, he says.
7. Get plenty of real sunlight during waking hours. Try to spend time in the sun throughout the day, starting when you wake up. “This properly sets the circadian clock, which makes nighttime sleep more efficient,” says Joseph Chandler, an assistant professor of psychology at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama. “Artificial light doesn’t do the job.”
8. Be smart about your alcohol and caffeine intake. “Alcohol is a diuretic that can lead to nighttime trips to the bathroom,” says Chandler, who has conducted numerous sleep studies. “Plus, it promotes light sleep but disrupts the transition to deeper, most restorative sleep. And caffeine disrupts the brain’s ability to keep track of how long it has been awake, making us feel that we’re more alert than we should be.”
9. Keep it cool. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, recommends keeping your bedroom at 68°F. “This is the ideal temperature,” says Dean. “Any warmer, and it can disrupt sleep and make it harder to fall asleep.”
10. Practice slow breathing. This type of breathing relaxes both the heart and mind, says Jose Colon, MD, MPH. “It is why people may fall asleep when they meditate,” says Colon. “Slow breathing at sleep onset, or when waking up at night, helps to get more sleep over the course of the night.”
Still not getting enough shut-eye?
If you just can’t seem to get enough rest, it may be time to see a doctor. Depression, anxiety, anemia and other conditions can also cause drowsiness.
“Most people don’t consider depression as a potential cause of sleepiness, and you may be feeling run down and not realize that it’s linked to a more serious condition, which can’t be remedied by more sleep,” says Jennifer Caudle, DO, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University-School of Osteopathic Medicine. “If you are a woman with heavy periods, you can actually bleed to the point of anemia. The resulting condition can cause you to feel sluggish and tired.”
If you want to improve athletic recovery and be at your best physical and mental levels possible, don’t overlook your sleep patterns. Try these expert tips, and soon you’ll get the restful zzz’s you need to wake up refreshed and ready to go!