7 steps to better sleep

Sleep tips header photo Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sleep is important—not just for avoiding dark circles under your eyes, but for staying healthy. Getting seven or eight hours of sleep each night can boost your energy, help fight off infections and reduce the risk of heart disease. It can even keep your mind sharp as you get older, according to a University of Oregon study.

Unfortunately, 60 percent of adults have sleep problems that leave them tossing and turning almost every night. Only 10 percent of Americans say they prioritize a good night's sleep. With its plethora of health benefits, it's important for everyone to figure out how to get a good night's sleep — as often as they can.

Here are seven easy ways to help you improve your sleep:

1. Follow a sleep schedule

Our bodies respond to cues, so try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends. It could help you doze off faster, sleep more deeply and wake up feeling happier and more alert. Sticking to a sleep schedule is a way of training your body when to fall—and stay—asleep.

2. Avoid screen time before bed

Your phone or tablet's soft blue glow might seem soothing, but the effect on your body is actually the opposite. The light from your screen can stop your body from making melatonin, a hormone that tells the brain when to wind down. So make a habit of turning off your devices or putting them in another room an hour before you close your eyes. You'll feel sleepier at bedtime and calmer during the night.

3. Exercise regularly

People who get at least two and a half hours of exercise a week sleep better and feel more alert, according to Oregon State University researchers. Daily, vigorous cardiovascular exercise is best. If you can't get to the gym, take a brisk walk at lunch and explore ways of squeezing exercise into your workday. Just be sure to stop exercising at least four hours before bed, so your body can ramp down.

4. Caffeine and alcohol: Know when to imbibe

No one expects you to cut out caffeine or alcohol altogether. But there are ways to imbibe without wreaking havoc on your sleep.

It takes about six hours (give or take) for the stimulating effects of caffeine to wear off. If you like an afternoon latte, get it before 2 p.m. to be sure you're clear for bedtime.

When alcohol leaves your bloodstream, it signals your body to wake up. So a nightcap before bed may mean perking up a few hours later. You might also be destined for everyone's least favorite sleep breaker: a trip to the bathroom. It takes your body about an hour to burn through one drink, so keep that in mind if you're having some beer or wine during or after dinner. Give it enough time to run its course before you go down for the night.

5. Watch what you eat at night

Stay away from dark chocolate (12 milligrams of caffeine per ounce!) and fatty foods like cheeseburgers (think heartburn) shortly before bed. If you're going to snack, try foods that can help you slow down and stay relaxed. Milk and turkey contain tryptophan, an amino acid that signals the body to get to sleep. Cherries have a healthy dose of melatonin. And complex carbohydrates like whole-grain cereal can keep you from waking up hungry in the night.

6. Clear your mind

Sometimes our own thoughts keep us from unwinding. Before bed, jot down a list of what's bugging you — and one thing you can do to fix each problem. This will help you set your troubles aside for the night and hit the ground running when you wake up.

7. Know when to get professional help

Some sleep problems can be very serious. If you've had insomnia for months or even years, tell your doctor. They can give you more sleep tips, prescribe medications or help you do a home-based sleep study. Your Premera plan can help with sleep conditions.

It takes more than lying there to get a good night's sleep. With these tips it won't be long before you're enjoying better shuteye — and better health! 

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