After I started my first full-time job, I noticed that the days got a lot shorter and the mornings got earlier each day. This realization was not a result of fewer hours in the day—but instead, an increased desire to hit the pillow much earlier and a need to wake up earlier each morning. In fact, the transition from a night owl student to an early bird full-time worker was hard for me. With a career, I suddenly coveted my sleep. I needed sleep and found myself even wanting to turn out the lights as early as 9 pm.
This November, I am not the only American thinking about the benefits of better sleep. November is National Sleep Comfort Month and to find out more about sleep health, Americans can visit the National Sleep Foundation, an American independent non-profit organization that seeks to improve public health and safety by achieving understanding of sleep health and sleep disorders. In an article entitled “Healthy Sleep Tips,” the National Sleep Foundation shares how to get better shuteye.
First, people should maintain a regular bed and wake time, even on the weekends. After a stressful forty-hour workweek, I struggle to get up when the alarm rings on Saturday morning. But according to the National Sleep Foundation, my schedule is crucial. In fact, our sleep and wake cycles are regulated by an internal clock known as a “circadian clock” that helps us to maintain balance. By sleeping in on Saturdays, I may feel as though I’m rejuvenating myself after a long week. But in reality, I’m throwing off my internal regulator.
Additionally, the Foundation recommends that people create a “sleep-conducive environment.” While the temptation may be high to fall asleep with a noisy TV on, people should, instead, establish regular conditions that include a cool, dark, quiet sleep environment that is free from interruptions. For people with noisy air units or other unavoidable nighttime noises such as snoring spouses, earplugs and “white noise” humidifiers can be very valuable purchases.
But a healthy environment and a routine schedule are not always enough when it comes to precious sleep. In fact, diet and exercise play a crucial role, as well. Researchers recommend that people avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime. Research shows that eating or drinking before bed can make for a restless night due to discomfort and other side effects such as heath burn. Also, researchers advise people to avoid drinking too many liquids right before going to sleep because these liquids can cause people to wake up throughout the night to go to the bathroom.
And finally—exercise. Physical activity has long been linked to a better night’s sleep. But too much exercise right before bedtime can be detrimental to sleep. Research shows that the human body can take as much as six hours to cool in temperature after a strenuous workout. Exercise certainly leads to more relaxed sleep, but people should avoid saving their workout for half an hour before bedtime.
Today, I still covet my sleep. I still look forward, with eager anticipation, to turning my lights out and letting my head hit the pillow. But after studying more about sleep health this November, I now have a great appreciation for the research that can drastically change the way I sleep and the way other Americans rest at night. I’ve learned that it’s all right to fall asleep at 9 pm. But I have to take other important factors into consideration in order to keep my body healthy and to get the best sleep I possibly can.
For more information, visit http://www.sleepfoundation.org/.
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