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Five Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep

Improving the quality of your sleep is one area where you can definitely make a difference, reducing your tendency to get angry. Rather than continuing to be a victim of poor sleep begin practicing some good sleep hygiene.

How exercise enhances your ability to sleep

Regular physical exercise is an essential part of good sleep hygiene. But, the benefit of exercise on sleep only comes when you:

  • Engage in moderate, nonstrenuous exercise. What you want to do is to tire the body out and relax it without overstimulating it at the same time. Any type of prolonged or intense exercise prior to going to bed will be counterproductive.

  • Exercise in the late afternoon or early evening. The benefits of exercising early in the day are long since past by the time you’re ready for bed. You also don’t want to wait until the last minute — an hour or two before retiring — because of the overstimulation effect.

  • Adjust your exercise to your age and overall fitness level. If you don’t, you’ll stress your body and produce a sense of physical restlessness, which will keep you awake.

Why you should avoid stimulants to enhance sleep

The two main stimulants that you should avoid four hours prior to sleep are caffeine and nicotine. Both activate your brain and promote alertness.

Caffeine

When it comes to caffeine use, there are several things you want to keep in mind:

  • Caffeine is available in many forms. Just because you’re passing up coffee after dinner doesn’t mean that you’re not getting caffeine in the form of that triple-chocolate cake you had for dessert.

  • The body can only handle about 300 mg of caffeine in a 24-hour period. Exceeding that amount isn’t difficult — one cup of regular coffee contains between 100 and 220 mg of caffeine!

  • The time it takes your body to get rid of caffeine ranges between three and seven hours.

  • Caffeine affects people differently. If you’re prone to anxiety and nervousness, you only become more so with caffeine use.

  • If you’re a heavy caffeine user, caffeine withdrawal may be a problem when you abstain from caffeine four hours or more before bedtime.

  • Evidence shows signs of sleep disturbance even in those folks who claim that caffeine has no effect on their sleep.

Nicotine

Nicotine stimulates the nervous system, leading to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and generalized muscle tension .

Many smokers’ first thought when they wake up is to smoke a cigarette. Smoking researchers attribute this to your brain waking you up because it needs a fix.

The stimulant effects of nicotine and caffeine are additive, and they combine to ensure poor sleep.

How to set up a pre-sleep routine

Your nervous system craves routine. It works best when you carry on day to day in much the same way.

Your pre-sleep routine should begin four or more hours before you actually try to go to sleep and ends only when you turn out the lights. It’s good not to go to bed on an empty stomach. An hour or so before you go to bed, have a light snack.

How to create a positive sleep environment

Here are some tips on how to create a positive sleep environment:

  • Use curtains and window shades to cut down on intrusive light from the outside.

  • Avoid temperature extremes. The ideal temperature for sleeping is between 54°F (12°C) and 75°F (24°C).

  • Lower your body temperature by taking a hot bath two hours before bedtime.

  • Use earplugs if the person sleeping next to you has a snoring problem.

  • Use background noise to mask more disruptive sound.

  • Spend some money on a good mattress. You want one that fits your body size and provides adequate support.

How to eliminate competing cues

The human brain works on the principle of association — if two things occur in time and space often enough, your brain makes a connection. When that connection is made, one part of that association will trigger the other.

Your brain should have only one connection — one thought, one impulse, one craving — when it comes to the sleep environment and that is: “Hooray, finally, I can get some sleep!”

You may have a problem getting to sleep in your bedroom simply because your brain has too many connections to other activities that compete with sleep. Your bedroom should be a place of sanctuary — a place where your mind and body can rest and recover.

If you live in a studio (one-room) apartment, try to separate your sleeping area from the rest of the room with bookshelves, a screen or room divider, or something similar.

How to distance yourself from work

If work is filling your every waking moment, you need sufficient time to disconnect or unplug your mind from work activities before you can have any hope of getting to sleep. You should start to pull away from all things work related four hours prior to sleep. If four hours seem impossible, at least give yourself one hour of separation time between work and sleep.

How to unclutter your mind

Another reason you may have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep is that your mind is too cluttered with psychological “junk” at bedtime.

As part of your pre-sleep routine, you might try writing down things you have in mind to do the next day.

When to consider sleeping pills

Using sleeping pills to get a good night’s sleep and reduce fatigue and irritability is not something you should do without consulting your doctor. Many types of sleeping pills produce negative side effects (daytime drowsiness, anxiety, rebound insomnia when you stop taking them).

No credible evidence says that over-the-counter sleep aids improve sleep by any objective measure.

The one type of pill that might help you get a good night’s sleep, but without the usual concerns about addiction and rebound effects, is an antidepressant. Antidepressants can be prescribed at lower dosages to promote sound sleep. Consult with your physician before deciding whether taking antidepressants to help with sleep is appropriate in your case.

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