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COLUMN: Healthy Living - 10 Ways to Improve Sleep

Winter months can be dark and dreary, cold and snowy and many of us spend more time indoors and less time participating in exercise. Eating shifts a bit more towards comfort foods with less of the salads and fruits that are so abundant in the summer. Perhaps because of the decreased activity, changes in eating or just the winter doldrums, sleep quality may be affected. You may have difficulty drifting off to sleep or awaken throughout the night and have problems falling back to sleep.

Sleep deprivation affects your health; so before you end up exhausted and sick, try these tips:

  1. Turn off TVs, computers, cell phones and other light-producing electronics at least one hour before sleep. Cover any light displays you can't shut off. The blue light rays suppress the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

  2. If you awaken during the night, do not look at your clock. Worrying about how little sleep you’ll get and how tired you’ll be actually increases the likelihood you’ll stay awake. Cover your clock or at least turn it around facing away from you.

  3. Napping can interfere with your sleep rhythm, but if you must nap keep it brief, 20 minutes or less. When the fatigue hits in the afternoon, it’s better to go for a short walk, drink a glass of ice water or do some stretches.

  4. Although alcohol is a depressant and may make you sleepy, it disrupts sleep cycles and increases wakefulness. Moderate alcohol intake (two glasses or more) can affect sleep when consumed up to six hours prior to sleep.

  5. Begin to prepare your mind and body for a good night sleep at least one hour prior. Keep the lights low around the house using the dimmer switch or just leave one small lamp on. No work, arguments or big decision making during this calm down period. Lowering the lights signals your brain to produce melatonin.

  6. If you are sensitive to background noise during the night causing the normal light arousals to bring you to full awakening, a white noise machine will be the best prevention. Some prefer fans or nature sound machines.

  7. Make a list of any concerns, worries or to-dos and release them till the morning. Know that they are written down for you to handle when you are well rested.

  8. We took the time and effort to establish bedtime rituals for our children, the same process works for us. Find a relaxing routine that works for you: read a calming book by soft light, meditating, listening to music or taking a warm bath.

  9. Keep your bedroom cool (around 65-68º) and dark, using room darkening shades, curtains or a mask, if necessary.

  10. If you can't fall asleep and don't feel drowsy, make relaxation your goal. Use visualization, deep breathing or meditation. Total relaxation can rejuvenate your body too.

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