When it comes to resolutions, exercise and eating might top the list but one poll found 24% of respondents also resolved to prioritize self-care, including sleep, in the New Year.
“We’re learning that sleep is as important to long-term health as diet and exercise,” explains Dr. Daniel Rifkin, medical director at The Sleep Medicine Centers of Western New York.
A good night’s sleep has been linked to a host of health benefits, including improved brain function, lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, enhanced performance, weight control and better skin. Instead of just vowing to generally “sleep better” in the New Year, set one (or more) of these expert-backed, sleep resolutions in 2019.
MAKE TIME FOR SLEEP
According to the National Sleep Foundation, you should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
If you’re not getting that much shut-eye, you could see the scale start to creep upward. Weight gain is just one of the potential side effects of failing to schedule sufficient time to sleep, notes Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California.
Sleep deprivation causes ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates appetite) to rise, increasing the odds you’ll raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night and, as Dasgupta explains, “No one with a midnight craving reaches for carrot sticks.” In contrast, sleep promotes the production of leptin, the hormone that controls appetite.
While an ideal amount of time between the sheets varies for everyone, sufficient (and beneficial) sleep requires going to bed at least seven hours before the alarm goes off in the morning.
ESTABLISH A REGULAR BEDTIME
If you’re like many people, you use the weekends to “catch up” on sleep. However, you should think twice before going to bed at 10 p.m. on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends. Even if you log the recommended seven-plus hours each night, an erratic sleep schedule could wreak havoc on your health.
“If your bedtime and wake time aren’t scheduled, you set yourself up to be sleep-deprived,” explains Dasgupta.
Adults with varied sleep-wake times weighed more and had higher blood sugar and a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke than those who maintained regular sleep schedules, according to new research published in Scientific Reports. Those with irregular sleep schedules were also more apt to report daytime sleepiness and lower levels of physical activity.
You also want to avoid skimping on sleep during the week and catching up on weekends. Although 2018 research showed sleeping late on weekends might make up for some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation during the week, Dasgupta believes the overall risks of sleep deprivation cancel out the benefits of spending a few extra hours between the sheets on Sunday mornings.
SHUT DOWN THE SCREENS
While it might be tempting to crawl under the covers and scroll social media feeds or stream episodes of your favorite shows, those screens are doing you no favors in helping you doze off. The blue light from your smartphone, tablet, computer and TV can wreak havoc on your melatonin levels, making it harder to fall asleep, notes Rifkin. A 2018 study found links between screen time, shorter sleep duration and higher rates of insomnia.
But the light isn’t the only problem. Binge-watching has also been linked to insomnia, fatigue and poor sleep quality, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. As you’ve likely experienced, watching several episodes of a show could lead to an emotional and cognitive arousal, which includes a strong immersion in the story, identification with the characters and an inability to stop watching. In other words, you get hooked and you simply can’t stop thinking about what you’ve just watched.
For a more restful slumber, Rifkin suggests powering down electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime and declaring the bedroom a screen-free zone.
SET UP A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Whether you soak in a bubble bath, meditate or read a book before bed, having a regular bedtime routine sends the signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep. (One study showed new mothers who sipped a steaming mug of chamomile tea had improved sleep quality, so you might want to consider putting a kettle on the stove as part of your nightly routine.)
“You can’t go from high stress and engagement to bed; your body needs time to unwind,” says Dasgupta. “Just like we read to kids before bed, relaxing activities can help you transition from a busy day into sleep.”
A routine can also help you sleep longer, wake up fewer times each night and get better quality rest, according to one study.
FOCUS ON YOUR ENVIRONMENT
It’d be hard to relax at a spa with loud music, bright lights and uncomfortable massage tables, right? Your bedroom needs to be relaxing, too. For optimal sleep, make sure the room is quiet and dark — and avoid too many blankets!
Research published in the journal Sleep found setting the temperature between 60 and 68 degrees helped participants fall asleep faster, sleep longer and wake up feeling more alert compared with temperatures of 75 degrees.
Temperature isn’t the only environmental factor to prioritize, though. Sound and light are two additional things that could be negatively affecting your ability to fall and stay asleep (and could have even more serious effects, according to one study). To block out excess noise and light, consider blackout shades, an eye mask, earplugs or a white noise machine.
Upwards of 50 million Americans have sleep disorders, according to the American Sleep Association. Not only can restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep, these sleep disorders can have serious health implications.
Sleep apnea, which affects 1-in-5 adults, causes repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night and is associated with higher rates of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, irregular heartbeat and heart failure. Rifkin calls the condition, “highly under-diagnosed” despite its health risks.
If you regularly log the recommended 7–8 hours of sleep per night and still wake up feeling exhausted, Rifkin notes an underlying medical issue might be to blame. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
For a healthier, happier 2019, resolve to make sleep a priority in the new year — and beyond.