How to Get More Sleep

The frenetic pace of modern day life ignites stress hormones that keep us in a state of perpetual arousal. Here’s how to cut down on common stressors to get more shut-eye.

Manage the Electronics

Few of us can survive for more than 30 minutes without being hooked up to a cell or BlackBerry at the very least. But the technological innovations that were supposed to give us more leisure time have instead made it easier for us to work all the time.

The issue is that by their very nature, they create stress by forcing what Rockefeller University’s Bruce McEwen, Ph.D., calls “a wholly artificial sense of urgency” on us. The minute your cellphone rings, you tense. And if your phone rings often, you never get to un-tense. That makes it difficult to wind down at night and get to sleep.

The thing is, we don’t have to do without our electronics to cut stress. All we have to do is control them. Answer e-mail three times a day instead of every 30 minutes, and turn off the instant notification feature. Moreover, turn off your cell after 6:00 p.m.

Don’t Stay Late at Work

The prevailing thought is that you have to stay late to get the job done, says Margaret Moline, Ph.D., former head of the sleep disorders centre at Weill Cornell Medical College in White Plains, New York. But working right up until bedtime is bound to disrupt your sleep. So go home at a reasonable hour. The truth is that it’s better to go home and go to sleep, then come back and do more work in the morning. Studies show that after a good night’s sleep, your increased ability to concentrate means that you can work faster-and more accurately.

Don’t Check Your E-mail

At least, not before bed. Researchers at Stanford University have found that the light from your monitor right before bed is enough to reset your whole wake/sleep cycle-and postpone the onset of sleepiness by three hours.

Centre Yourself

Take time to get in touch with yourself, your feelings, your dreams, and the way you want to live a good, healthy life.

Prioritize Sleep

Sometimes it seems as though our culture has begun to view the need for sleep as a sign of weakness. It’s the new macho-and women are buying into it big-time. But your body was genetically programmed to spend one-third of its life asleep and to sleep in specific cycles of light sleep, deep sleep, and active-brain sleep. Each cycle takes 90 minutes, and each has a specific assignment that affects thinking, memory, growth, your immune system, and even your weight. Trying to tuck anything that important into an hour here and an hour there just won’t get the job done.

Begin the Day in Gratitude

Take 10 minutes every morning to sit down, close your eyes, and give thanks for every one of the blessings in your life. Name each one and hold it in your thoughts. The sense of gratitude you’ll experience will set a serene tone for the entire day-and reduce a day’s worth of stress hormones that can trigger insomnia that night.

Strike a Balance

Toning down a tightly wired nervous system will encourage a balanced sleep/wake cycle. Think about tai chi, meditation, prayer, biofeedback, yoga-any daily activity that allows you to cultivate a peaceful centre and a sense of balance.

Deal with Sleep Saboteurs

Pain, allergies, breathing difficulties, premenstrual hormone warp, shift work, cancer, depression, aging parents, kids-there are a thousand things that can interfere with sleep. If any of these factors pertain to you check with your doctor, then follow the experts’ tips to get yourself a good night’s sleep.

Resign from Sipping with Supper

You really need to limit alcohol to an afternoon libation, not an after-dinner or before-bed nightcap. Despite its reputation, alcohol sipped at these later times keeps you in the lighter, less restorative stages of sleep in which you’re likely to wake if the dog so much as turns over in his bed.

Keep a Worry Book

“Put a ‘worry book’ beside your bed,” suggests UCLA’s Dr. Yan-Go. When you wake and start worrying, jot down everything you’re worrying about and any strategies you’ve thought of that will solve the problems to which they’re related. Then close the book, put it on your nightstand, turn out the light, and go back to sleep. Your worries will be waiting for you in the morning.

Forget The 11 O’clock News

Given the fact that most late-night newscasts tend to feature murder, mayhem, and man’s inhumanity to man, these are bound to turn on every arousal mechanism your body owns. No way are you going to drift into a peaceful sleep after 30 to 60 minutes of watching violence and disturbing stories. So ditch the late news. Watch it in the morning when that shot of adrenalin it triggers will help you fight rush-hour traffic.

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