How You Can Sleep Better

You do want to sleep better, don’t you? Me too.

After last weeks post, “If this is sleep research’s golden age, then why are we all so tired?” I picked up a copy of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep to learn more about how we can sleep better.

Here are some tips from Dreamland on how to improve your sleep.

What goes into a good night of sleep?

Only recently has science figured out what goes into a good night of sleep. Falling asleep, and staying that way throughout the night, appears to be a battle with two fronts. The first takes place in the head. Between the time when a person lays his or her head on a pillow and the time when the brain sends out the first sleep spindles marking the onset of sleep, the mind must put aside its focus on its immediate surroundings and daily concerns. This process requires a person to give up direct control of his or her thoughts. At the same time, the body must be comfortable enough that the brain essentially forgets that they are attached. When something gets in the way of either, the result is often insomnia.

Sleep Hygiene

while a comfortable mattress may have little impact when it comes to sleep quality, there are several other aspects of the bedroom that do. Taken together, they form what specialists call sleep hygiene. Most are common sense. It is obviously not a good idea to drink coffee in the evening if it keeps you up at night. Nor is drinking alcohol before bedtime a smart move. Alcohol may help speed the onset of sleep, but it begins to take its toll during the second half of the night. As the body breaks down the liquid, the alcohol in the bloodstream often leads to an increase in the number of times a person briefly wakes up. This continues until the blood alcohol level returns to zero, thereby preventing the body from getting a full, deep, restorative sleep.

Help your circadian rhythm by knowing when to use light and when to avoid it.

…bright lights—including the blue-and-white light that comes from a computer monitor or a television screen—can deceive the brain, which registers it as daylight. Lying in bed watching a movie on an iPad may be relaxing, but the constant bright light from the screen can make it more difficult for some people to fall asleep afterward.

Cold showers and why we stick our feet out.

Recent studies have shown that body temperature also plays an outsized role in getting decent sleep. In addition to the appearance of brain waves like sleep spindles, one of the biological markers of the onset of sleep is a drop in core body temperature. At the same time, the temperature of the feet and hands increases as the body gives off heat through its periphery, which explains why some people like to have their feet sticking out of the covers as they fall asleep. The bodys tendency to release heat during the night is one reason why some mattresses are said to be uncomfortable—they “sleep hot.” In the simplest explanation, the fabric and materials that make up some beds trap the heat the body is reassessing.

…Assisting the body in its cooling process, then is a natural way to improve sleep. One study by researchers in Lille, a city in northeastern France, found that subjects fell asleep faster and had a better overall quality of sleep following behaviors that cooled the body, such as taking a cold shower right before bed. The best predictor of quality sleep was maintaining a room temperature in a narrow band between 60 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit (or 16 to 19 degrees Celsius)

Exercise helps. “Those who exercised reported a better quality of sleep than those who remained sedentary.”

Other tips

Other common suggestions from sleep doctors include maintaining a consistent bedtime, using the bedroom only for sex or sleeping, and turning the lights down low in the home about a half hour before climbing into bed.