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Sleep Better Tonight with These Science-Backed Strategies

Falling asleep can be difficult, especially after a particularly grueling shift. In many cases all the sleep hygiene of a cool, dark, quiet room isn’t going to be the only thing needed to help you fall asleep and stay that way.

And so, we looked to science to find out diet, exercise, meditation, and your sleep environment may help you find rest. Here’s what you need to know:

What to eat to sleep better

Eating and sleeping are very much tried together. When you don’t sleep enough, you tend to eat more because you have less control over your appetite. On the other hand, what you eat can make it more difficult to sleep. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for eating to improve sleep, according to a report in The New York Times

Don’t eat diets high in sugar, saturated fat, and processed carbohydrates, as they can disrupt your sleep.

Don’t eat foods rich in tryptophan, the amino acid in dairy and turkey that can make us feel sleepy, by themselves. They need carbohydrates to help carry tryptophan through the blood-brain barrier for that feeling of tiredness to occur. Therefore, don’t focus on foods; focus on your overall diet to improve your sleep quality.

Do consume a high-carbohydrate diet compared to a high-fat or high-protein diet since people tend to fall asleep much faster at night.

Do avoid from simple carbs—white bread, bagels, pastries, and pasta, as they can cause frequent waking throughout the night. Complex carbs, those that contain fiber, can help you obtain deep and restorative sleep.

Do try the Mediterranean diet. Studies have found that people who follow this type of eating pattern are less likely to suffer from insomnia and short sleep, though more research is needed to confirm the correlation.

How to move to sleep better

Numerous studies have linked exercise to better sleep—decreasing the amount of time to fall asleep and the amount of awake time during the night and increasing the quality and quantity of sleep. However, not all exercise is equal: Vigorous exercise prior to bed can hamper these benefits whereas stretching and yoga-type movements could improve them. Follow this short routine before bedtime to calm down and relax.

How meditation can improve your sleep

When it comes to falling asleep, meditation can help. Research has found meditation to improve sleep quality and ability to fall asleep by bringing about a relaxed state of mind. It is the exact opposite to the stress response.

Meditation helps reduce psychological distress and improve rumination and emotional regulation. Physically, it slows the heart rate and breathing and lowers levels of cortisol. How meditation affects sleep is still being investigated, but it may change the brain. Specifically, studies on people who practice meditation tend to experience better REM sleep and experience fewer nighttime awakenings.

Not sure where to start? Use this guide or try one of these apps to begin your meditation practice.

Why you should try a weighted blanket

Weighted blankets have been used to help autistic and anxiety-ridden people fall asleep. Now a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine proves that it isn’t just a placebo effect.

Swedish researchers separated 121 patients with depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric diagnoses, who had sleep problems into two groups. One group slept with an 18-pound weighted blanket and the other slept with an identical-looking three-pound blanket. Participants wore activity sensors on their wrists to measure sleep time, awakenings, and daytime activity and answered a 28-point questionnaire called the Insomnia Severity Index.

More than 42% of the heavy-blanket sleepers scored low enough on the Insomnia Severity Index to be considered in remission from their sleep problems, compared to only 3.6% of the controls. The heavy-blanket sleepers also reported fewer awakenings after sleep onset, less daytime sleepiness, and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety overall. This preliminary study adds to a growing amount of research that weighted blankets could help those that have trouble sleeping. If you would like to give it a try, look for a blanket that is no more than 10% of your body weight (otherwise you may feel pinned down).

Be cautious of white noise

Sleeping with white noise is supposed to mask disruptive noises and be a non-pharmacological approach for promoting and improving sleep quality, but a paper in Sleep Medicine Reviews questions the practice. After reviewing the research examining the relationships between continuous white noise or similar broadband noise and sleep, researchers found the quality of evidence for continuous noise improving sleep was very low, which contradicts its widespread use. Researchers feel that white noise as a sleep aid needs more exploration, but currently, it is questionable since the continuous noise may negatively affect sleep and hearing.

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