For many of us, it is difficult to get seven to eight hours of restorative sleep during the best of times. Now, during these upsetting and worrisome times, it can be near impossible. Sleep experts say that the quantity and quality of our sleep are the best predictors of how long we are going to live. Skimping on sleep affects our immune systems, which we now need to be stronger than ever. As a result of years of sleep research and new types of sleep technology, it is easier to get those required zzz’s that we so need. Here are some of the helpful guides to getting better rest.
Experts have found that cooler temperatures signal the brain to produce more of the sleep hormone melatonin. Having a cool bedroom by turning down the heat before going to bed is important to restful sleep. Lighter weight pajamas help prevent overheating in bed. Sleepwear with moisture-wicking fabric is great, especially for those of us with nighttime hot flashes. Manufacturers have also introduced thermal-regulating mattress pads to help control our body temperatures. Also, avoid comforters and sheets that are too thick and heavy. New styles of mattresses like memory foam are made with cooling technology.
Finding the mattress that is “just right” for us is easier now than ever. The ideal mattress provides enough support to prevent us from sinking in at the hips and allows our back muscles to relax. When mattress shopping, we should not rely on choosing one online. Go to a mattress store and actually lie down on them for at least ten minutes to gauge how each one feels. For those of us who sleep with a partner, it is important to bring them along to try out mattresses. Also, it is important to know the return policy in case the mattress chosen does not work out.
Pillows need to be to offer good support. If a pillow folded in half does not spring back, it is no longer offering good support. Most regular pillows have a life span of 18 months, while memory foam versions can last three years. Manufacturers offer all different types and shapes of pillows for every sleeping style (back, stomach, side) to optimize spine alignment. Some are designed to minimize snoring, which many of us with snoring partners would appreciate.
It is imperative to avoid bright lights at nighttime. As bedtime approaches, we need to dim lights to signal our brains that it is soon time for bed. Blue light that comes from cell phones, tablets and other computer screens has been found to suppress melatonin production. We need to avoid any type of blue light at least an hour before bed. If this is impossible, we can now buy blue-light blocking glasses and screen covers for us to use before bed. It is also important to choose calm colors for the walls in our bedrooms, as well as the bedding we sleep on. Having walls with cool neutral tones that are matte or eggshell are the best; avoid anything too bright or glossy.
Our bodies will naturally drop cortisol levels before bed, preparing us for sleep. When we are anxious, it can interfere with this drop causing difficulties for us to fall and stay asleep. Considering the upsetting times we are living in right now, there is plenty of anxiety in all of us. One helpful item is a weighted blanket that provides DPS (deep pressure stimulation.) This can decrease activity of the sympathetic nervous system which promotes alertness during stressful times, while also lowering our heart rate and blood pressure. Sleep-related studies recommend a 12 lb. blanket. Meditation also helps reduce cortisol levels and improve sleep.
Crying babies, barking dogs, and beeping car horns can keep us awake at night. White noise machines create a fanlike whirring noise that can help block out these annoying sounds so we can sleep. A newer option is pink noise which is a combination of frequencies that sounds flatter than white noise and helps increase our deep sleep. It has also been found to increase memory retention in older adults. For some people, listening to relaxing music before bed can improve sleep quality.
Lavender has been considered a sleep-inducing scent for years. Studies show it can enhance sleep quality, even for those of us with insomnia, anxiety and depression. Using products like lavender bath oil, moisturizer, or diffusing oil helps to quiet our brain and nervous system, allowing us to sleep more calmly.
By setting the stage for restful sleep, we can avoid tossing and turning and staring at the ceiling all night. Starting the day rested rather than groggy can help us better cope with whatever life has to throw at us.