According to the better Sleep Council of Canada, 25 percent of Canadians could use more Zzzs. Adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Your body and mind rejuvenate while you're asleep, and without sleep, you'll suffer "daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, memory problems," and other side effects, says Dr. Henry Olders, a Montreal-based psychiatrist and assistant professor at McGill University who studies sleep disorders.
Other effects include "impaired immune and endrocrine function," says Dr. Glendon E. Sullivan, deputy director of the Atlantic Health Sciences Sleep Centre, based in Saint John, New Brunswick. "Our white blood cell counts diminish and ability to fight infection may be affected, and our ability to keep our blood glucose levels in check is impaired," he adds. Studies have also shown ongoing lack of sleep can contribute to depression, irritability, stress, anxiety, and even obesity, according to the Better Sleep Council of Canada.
Are you having trouble hitting the hay? If you're having ongoing problems getting to or staying asleep, see your family doctor.
But for once-in-a-while difficulties or a general lack of satisfaction with the quality of your sleep, try these expert-approved lifestyle tips.
1. Invest in a good bed
Buying the best bed you can afford is an investment, not a splurge. "Having a good-quality bed that's big enough for individual movements and sprawling cannot be overemphasized," says Dr. Sullivan. Extra room minimizes disruption if you or your partner toss and turn, and also allows you to pile on, or peel off, extra blankets if the two of you don't see eye-to-eye on nighttime temperature. Additionally, look for the level of support and firmness you prefer, and buy it new: dust-mites, bedbugs and worn out coils aren't worth any savings.
2. Declutter for sleep
"A quiet, dark room that is used primarily for sleep," is best, says Dr. Sullivan. It's amazing how few bedrooms actually fit the bill, though. Distracting TVs, radios, laptops, home-gym equipment, overflow from closets, and other clutter are commonplace in many bedrooms. Sound like yours? Move the clutter from the bedroom.
3. Paint your walls
A stimulating bedroom palette like cayenne may spice up your boudoir, but it also might be the reason you're having difficulty winding down. Consider repainting your walls a restful blue, grey, or neutral sand. (Stick to these shades for your bedding, too.)
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4. Dim the lights
A bedtime read can help you transition from day to night, but if you're doing it under a glaring overhead light, you may find your self turning pages well into the night. "Light stimulates us and inhibits melatonin production, which in turn delays the signal to sleep," says Dr. Sullivan. Use a mellow reading lamp on your nightstand instead.
5. Try meditation
Meditation can be helpful as a way of "divert[ing] ourselves from the business and thoughts of the day," says Dr. Sullivan. Gentle yoga or meditation sessions can be a way to transition from wakefulness to relaxation and sleep.
6. Get the pet out of the bedroom
Sure, Fluffy's cute, but she may be contributing to your allergy symptoms, nasal congestion, snoring and sleep apnea, says Dr. Sullivan. These affect your quality of sleep, and by extension, your bedmate's as well.
7. Don't 'self-medicate' if you can't sleep
If something's keeping you up on an ongoing basis, see your doctor. Never rely on a dram of brandy to help you sleep.
8. Work out earlier in the evening
An early evening jog or bike ride is fine, but time it at least two hours before bedtime or you may find yourself feeling active and rarin' to go – not ready for Zzzs.
9. Soak your cares away
Take a hot bath, but pass on the "energizing," "revitalizing" or "refreshing" bath oils. Lavender is a proven scent for relaxation, however.
10. Avoid snacking before bed
Pre-bed snacks encourage heartburn, reflux and lowered sleep quality, says Dr. Sullivan. Nighttime snackers tend to crave "quick, high-calorie, fat-containing substances," he adds.
"Therefore you get the double whammy of eating the worst possible foods at the worst possible time," for both sleep quality and weight gain, says Dr. Sullivan.
Even if you indulge in this habit now, the good news is you can wean your body off of them, says our expert. Start tonight and you may be counting fewer sheep, as well as fewer inches on your waistline!
• Solutions for common sleep disorders
• Why you have trouble falling asleep
• 7 solutions to your sleep problems
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