Top 8 healthy sleep habits

Top 8 healthy sleep habits

March is Sleep Awareness Month.

Do you toss and turn all night? Do you wake up before dawn and can’t get back to sleep? Having trouble drifting?

As women age and experience different stages of life, hormonal changes can disrupt both the amount and quality of sleep, impacting mental and physical health. The good news? There’s a lot you can do to improve your sleep with just a few changes to your lifestyle.

Second a recent study, middle-aged women should aim to get seven hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep each night. Just like eating healthy and exercising regularly, getting enough sleep should be at the top of your list of healthy habits. But with the stresses of everyday life — and physical curveballs, menopause included — how can you increase your chances of getting adequate, quality sleep on a consistent basis?

Start with healthy sleep habits. If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, poor sleep habits could be the culprit. If so, consider restarting your sleep hygiene habits.

We asked the sleep doctor, Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.clinical psychologist, American Board of Sleep Medicine graduate, and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, to share her top healthy sleep habits for catching quality ZZZs.

Sleep hygiene checklist

1. Choose a wake-up time and stick to it seven days a week

Forget “weekend recovery sleep.” Quality sleep is all about consistency. “If possible, wake up according to your own chronotype — your internal genetic sleep schedule,” Breus said. Note that you do not choose your chronotype. It chooses you. “Your body has a favorite time when it likes to wake up and go to bed,” Breus said, as an early riser or night owl. (Take this quiz to find out your chronotype.) But your chronotype changes over time. “As women approach and enter menopause, they start waking up slightly earlier than they normally would,” Breus said. This affects both the quantity and quality of sleep.

Breus pointed out that, compared to younger women who typically experience the best quality sleep, older women tend to get fewer hours of sleep per night. It means that due to physical changes in the body as women get older, they naturally start waking up earlier, even if they don’t want to. That’s why Breus stresses the importance of maintaining a consistent wake-up time, even if this wake-up time changes as women age. For example, if in your 50s you automatically wake up at 6 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. (as you did in your 40s), don’t try to “sleep in” on the weekend to catch up. 6am becomes your “new normal”.

2. Follow a morning wake-up routine

What you do during the day sets the stage for a better night’s sleep, and that starts with your morning wake-up habits. Simple things like exposing yourself to light, moving your body, and taking deep breaths help your body go from feeling sleepy to being awake. And, according to the National Sleep FoundationHealthy daytime habits also lead to lower stress levels and better overall health. And the National Mental Illness Alliance says a good morning routine can boost your energy, productivity, and positivity.

Need some ideas? Breus suggests this example of a morning routine.

  • Sit up, swing your legs over the side of the bed, and take 15 slow, deep breaths. This awakens the respiratory system and helps bring you into the present.
  • Drink a glass of water to replace the entire gallon of water you lose during sleep through breath, sweat and skin oils.
  • Walk up to a window or (ideally, walk outside) and get 15 minutes of direct sunlight without sunglasses. (But don’t stare directly into the sun!) This helps turn off the melatonin faucet in your head and helps clear the brain fog in the morning.

3. Stop caffeine and alcohol intake early

Caffeine has a half-life of between six and eight hours, meaning half of it remains in your system after that amount of time. For example, if you drink three cups of coffee during the day (the last one at 2 p.m.), about 50% of that caffeine is still in your body at 10 p.m. Breus said that caffeine significantly affects your ability to enter slow wave sleep, or deep sleep, so not only can you not fall asleep, but you will have poor quality sleep. “Women going through menopause tend to feel exhausted, so they may be overdoing the caffeine,” Breus said. Stopping caffeine by at least 2pm gives you a fighting chance. This goes for any caffeine-containing food or drink, including coffee, tea, soda, and especially energy drinks.

Same for alcohol. Stop drinking alcohol three hours before bed and limit yourself to two drinks. “Alcohol is the number one sleep aid in the world,” Breus said, citing how more people drink to sleep than anything else they do to fall asleep. This is problematic because alcohol negatively affects sleep. “Alcohol initially gives you slow wave sleep, but then it hits rock bottom and you lose a lot of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep,” he said. REM sleep it plays an important role in learning, retaining memories, and stabilizing your mood.

Watch: How to get a good night’s sleep >>

5. Stop exercising four hours before bed

You should exercise daily for many reasons, and Breus said it’s one of the easiest ways to improve your sleep quality. Why? Because exercise helps you fall asleep faster, enjoy more restful sleep, and wake up less frequently. “However, if it’s too close to bedtime — within four hours — it raises core body temperature,” Breus said. To fall asleep, your core body temperature must drop, not rise, hence the fitness cutoff point.

6. Keep calm

Shifting estrogen levels during perimenopause can contribute to a number of symptoms (think hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings), which can interfere with sleep. To ease sleep-disrupting hot flashes, Breus suggested keeping the bedroom temperature cool by turning on fans and using light bedding. Other interesting tips: avoid taking a hot bath or shower before bedtime, wear loose clothing made of natural fibers to bed, and avoid eating spicy foods (they could trigger sweating).

Read “Top 10 Menopause Symptoms” >>

7. Put the devices away

Second Harvard Medical School, exposure to any light prevents the body from producing melatonin, a hormone that affects the sleep/wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. But the blue light emitted by electronic devices (such as cell phones, tablets, and TVs) affects melatonin production even more. Try to put your devices away about two to three hours before bedtime to limit your exposure to blue light.

8. Create a bedtime routine

Just like a morning routine helps you wake up, a nighttime routine helps your body and brain transition into sleep. Incorporate some personal hygiene habits (like brushing your teeth and washing your face) with some relaxing self-care habits. Some people like to meditate, read a book, do gentle yoga or stretching, or listen to relaxing music. Find what works best for your needs.

Following this sleep hygiene checklist can help you improve your ability to fall asleep to get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed the next morning.

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