APU Health & Fitness Original

The Science of Sleep: How to Achieve a Better Night’s Rest

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“Get a good night’s sleep.” We’ve all heard this advice, but is heeding it really possible? Rest is imperative to maintain good health because it reduces sickness and improves mindfulness.

How much sleep you need depends on your age. However, achieving the right number of hours remains an unattainable goal for some people.

So if you fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, congratulations! But if you have problems with getting enough sleep, here are some tips to help you get the rest and rejuvenation you need.

A Lack of Sleep Is Detrimental

It’s important to understand the consequences of sleep deprivation. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), a lack of sleep can lead to irreversible neurological disorders. The key to a good night’s sleep is broken into three categories: quantity, quality and consistency.

Quantity: What Is Your Sleeping Position?

How well you rest is directly correlated to how much quality sleep you receive. Most likely, you sleep in a fetal position on your side or lie flat on your back, immersed in pillows.

There are positives and negative consequences for any sleeping position you choose. Side sleeping is the most common and helps to clear your brain waves. Lying on your stomach can contort the body and cut off air circulation.

Over time, sleeping on the right side can lead to heartburn and acid in the esophagus. Sleeping on the left side may improve circulation over time and is recommended for pregnant women.

Sleeping on your back puts your spine in a neutral position. However, it can also enhance sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea.

Quality: How Good Is the Sleep You Receive?

Environmental changes can enhance your ability to rest. The American Sleep Association recommends fresh air and even an air purifier to help you get a good night’s rest. Use the sun to set your circadian rhythm and create an environment that is conducive to one thing: sleeping.

It also pays to re-examine the pillow, mattress and bedding you use. In some cases, synthetic sheets versus cotton sheets can make the difference when you’re trying to get to sleep because synthetic sheets release more heat, thus making a cooler environment.

Ironically, taking naps during the day make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. Many people use the bed for multiple activities, which causes your brain to become confused. For instance, if you also work or watch TV in your bed, it confuses the brain when you actually want to rest in your bed.

Consistency: Is Your Nighttime Routine the Same?

More than likely, a good night’s rest starts with a consistent nighttime routine. Here are my four suggestions to maintain consistency:

1. Go to sleep at the same time every night. Give yourself some time to wind down, clear your mind and fall asleep effortlessly. Establish a routine; for example, “bath, book, bed” is a common practice for children under the age of 10.

Also, eliminate distractions. Most bedrooms have a host of distractions: kids, pets, reminders of work, TVs and electronic devices.

2. Set the environment. Reduce lighting and wear an eye mask. If you take melatonin as a sleeping aid, be aware that it can be affected by the blue light emitted by tablets, cell phones and laptops.

In addition, create a more tranquil environment by turning off notifications, silencing your phone and charging your phone in another room when you’re sleeping. Lower temperatures are more conducive to getting a full night’s rest. Changing into pajamas is also useful and has both a mental and physical effect on the body.

3. Diet and physical activity are key to a good night’s rest. Avoid eating too close to bedtime, especially meals that are spicy or acid-based or accompanied by alcohol. In addition, caffeine can take up to 12 hours to leave your system, so avoid it right before bedtime if at all possible.

4. Clear your mind. Writing down your thoughts in a daily journal can help you clear your mind and prepare for returning to bed. Sorting through your worries and prioritizing tasks can also help your brain refocus on what’s important. A brain dump can help you address stressful challenges and create an attitude of gratitude.

Try Something New If You Have Problems Getting Enough Rest

Whatever sends you off to sleep is the best practice. However, it never hurts to experiment and try new techniques for getting to sleep.

Despite all of these suggestions, you may find that you can’t rest. If you wake up in the middle of the night, take action. Instead of lying awake in bed, get up, drink a glass of water and read in another room. Use the time to be productive.

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor in the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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