While there are many things that can impact your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep, you can help yourself get the best night’s rest possible by making sure your bedtime routine and sleep environment appeal to your senses — all five of them.
How'd you sleep last night? Being well-rested impacts everything from your energy, mood and mental clarity to your self-control, waistline and overall health. According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2014 Sleep Health Index, Americans are sleeping an average of seven hours and 36 minutes a night, which isn't that far off the recommended seven to nine hours. But the study also revealed that 35 percent reported their sleep quality as "poor" or "only fair." While there are many things that can impact your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep, you can help yourself get the best night's rest possible by making sure your bedtime routine and sleep environment appeal to your senses â€” all five of them.
1. Make the Room Dark.
First things first, appeal to your sense of sight. Things like your alarm clock, cellphone, streetlights or even a full moon have an impact on the quality of your sleep. These lights send a wake-up message to your brain, which suppresses your body's production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. For some solid shut-eye, make your bedroom completely dark, says Robert Oexman, M.D., director of the Sleep to Live Institute. "Use blackout shades to block outside light. If the alarm clock has LED lights, it should be turned around and covered up." This goes for cellphones too: Plug them in outside the bedroom or turn on the "Do Not Disturb" feature.
2. Do a Sound Check.
Do you need music to soothe you to sleep? An audiobook? Maybe the television? Sound preference at night varies greatly from person to person. While you may love falling asleep to your favorite playlist or TV show, experts recommend against it. Your brain continues to register and process sounds while you sleep, so the slam of a car door, the changing volume of a song or late-night infomercials can disrupt your sleep. So aim for keeping nighttime noise levels constant. Ideally, this means creating a constantly quiet sleep environment. But for those who deal with partners who snore, freeway noise or a neighbor's barking dogs, a fan or white noise machine can provide a calming and consistent cover.
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3. Find the Right Room Temperature.
While soft, comfortable bedding can lull you into a good night's sleep, another touch element is also important: temperature. In the evening, body temperature begins to slowly decrease, continuing to fall until the early hours of the morning, when the body begins to warm, helping to rouse you from dreamland. "A room temperature of 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal," says Dr. Robert Oexman. But don't turn the thermostat down so low that you need heavy pajamas or stuffy bedding, which can have the same sleep-stealing effect. If you love to cozy up in bed, keep your head and feet out of the covers, says Dr. Oexman. Taking a warm shower before bed can also help cue your body to start cooling off.
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4. Sniff a Soothing Scent.
Can you sniff your way to a better night's sleep? One 2012 Thai study found that smelling lavender oil caused a significant decrease in blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature â€” all important for helping you fall asleep. Not into lavender? Choose a smell you like and stick with it even when you travel, says Dr. Robert Oexman. The body's scent-processing system is connected to your brain's emotional center, so any scent that makes you relax or brings up fond memories can help soothe you to sleep. Don't choose a scent you smell regularly during the day, though, says Dr. Oexman. Using the scent only at bedtime can help train your body and brain to connect it with sleep.
5. Try a Taste of Tartness.
Of all the five senses, taste is often forgotten during bedtime routines. While warm beverages can play a soothing role in a nighttime routine, tart cherry juice is a natural source of the sleep hormone melatonin. One 2014 study from The FASEB Journal showed that drinking two 8-ounce glasses of tart cherry juice a day increased sleep by an average of 85 minutes compared to a placebo. According to the National Sleep Foundation, foods with tryptophan can also help make you drowsy. Turkey is a well-known source of tryptophan, but eggs, chicken, nuts and dairy all contain similar amounts. Pairing your favorite tryptophan-containing food with a carbohydrate will make it an even more effective snooze agent.
What Do YOU Think?
How do you sleep at night? Do you fall asleep quickly, or do you have trouble dozing off? Do you toss and turn all night, or are you a sound sleeper? What's your normal bedtime routine? Do you ever think about any of your five senses before bed? Do you think you'll pay attention to them now? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below.