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Eyes Wide Shut: A Guide to Better Sleep

Irving Penn for Vogue, 1991

Irving Penn for Vogue, 1991

Though often overlooked in our caffeinated existence, the importance of adequate sleep goes beyond its power to banish under-eye circles. A good night’s rest is as vital to our health as proper nutrition, hydration, and air. Sleep allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to process information. In fact, your mind is surprisingly busy while you’re dozing off; during sleep, you consolidate your memories and skills you have learned while you were awake.

On the flip side, sleeplessness poses a real risk to our health and well-being. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, people suffering from sleep debt (which means less than seven hours of sleep a night for adults) face a higher risk of suffering from obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and weakened immune function. According to Dr. Jim Horne, author of “Sleeplessness: Assessing Sleep Need in Society Today,” one of the most important factors to improve one’s sleep is peace of mind at bedtime. The reason why many people have insomnia in our frantically paced modern life is that our minds are constantly racing. The issues, problems, tasks and to-do lists in our waking life tend to creep in and intrude our sleep. And life in the smart phone is age is not helping. Quick glimpses of incessant notifications trigger agitated, nervous systems to release floods of hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, causing blood pressure to spike and muscles to tighten.

8 Habits for Better Sleep

We’ve composed eight ways to help you develop a relaxing routine. Remember, by repeating a regular pattern, you condition your body and mind to realize that it’s time to go to sleep. Many activities people do in the evening can be overstimulating. So a bedtime ritual can help you to unwind before hitting the pillow. Snooze away, dear friends.

Create Your Own Sanctuary. For many people, interrupted sleep is caused by external factors such as light, discomfort, noise and uncomfortable room temperature. Treat yourself to a tasteful silk sleeping mask, spray a touch of lavender on your pillow, consider blackout blinds, adjust the room temperature (the last thing you want is to wake up either hot and bothered or chilly and shivering) and have earplugs handy. And, if your mattress isn’t up to standard, let that be your next big investment.

Move Your Body. Studies show that exercise such as brisk walking, light biking and yoga can function much like an antidepressant, decrease anxiety, clear the mind, and help bring on a restorative night of sleep. Also, working larger muscle groups such as your legs in your daily workouts helps physically exhaust your body, making it easier to fall asleep.

Take a Bath. Besides being a relaxing activity in itself, a warm bath helps the body to reach a temperature ideal for rest. Amp up the sleeping potential by adding Epsom salts to your bath.  Stress drains the body of magnesium, which helps to promote rest while improving the quality of sleep and concentration; and Epsom salts are rich in this essential mineral. When the salts are dissolved in warm water, the magnesium is absorbed through the skin and can replenish its supplies; the salts also help relieve your body of toxins.

Sip on Chamomile Tea. Not only can drinking a warm drink before bedtime makes you feel drowsier, but the naturally calming caffeine-free tea has also been proved to have a calming effect on the body.

Breathe. If you find it difficult to switch into sleep mode, try meditation or breathing exercises to get you in the mood. Take several long, deep breaths and focus on what you are grateful for today. By simply concentrating your attention on the positive attributes of your life can bring your whole mind and body into balance and eliminate any sense of anxiety. Headspace offers 10-minute-long meditation sessions which you can interact with on your smartphone, providing instant relaxation.

Eat for Sleep. Tart cherries are one of the few natural foods to contain melatonin, the chemical that helps control our body’s internal clock; we suggest eating some with breakfast and at night. Almonds are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that’s necessary for good sleep. Black rice, sesame, and pumpkin seeds are also good sources. Meanwhile, bananas can promote sleep because they contain the natural muscle-relaxants magnesium and potassium, 

Get Some Sunshine. Starting your day with natural light exposure helps reset your biological clock. It also balances your body’s melatonin and cortisol level. 

Maintain a Regular Sleeping Schedule. Keep your circadian rhythms in check by adhering to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible. Yes, even on weekends.

  Written by Sofia Sosunov

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