Get a Better Night's Sleep

Written by Lauren Long

Here's advice on improving your sleep. Feel younger, have more energy and beat insomnia.

Sleep to Lose Weight
Deep sleep rejuvenates the immune system.
Slow down aging. Sleep more.

Cut out the caffeine from diet sodas and coffee, especially at night.

When we don't get enough sleep, our bodies age more quickly, according to Dr. Ray tips for getting good sleep Sahelian, author of Melatonin. Quality sleep is also essential to good health because deep sleep rejuvenates the immune system.

Many of us mistakenly believe that as we age, our sleep quality declines. In fact, how well you sleep depends on your habits and lifestyle: If you eat a good diet, exercise and manage stress properly, you can sleep like a baby well into your 80s or 90s.

But the demands of our fast-paced, complex lives have affected our snooze time, and millions of Americans don't get enough sleep.

"It used to be considered a status quality if you could get by with less sleep," says Keri Brenner co-author of Sleep Disorders. "But sleep is when the body repairs itself. Without enough sleep, the muscles, organs and cells don't have enough time to repair from the day."

We can improve our chances for a good night's sleep. According to Brenner, some of the most common causes of sleep disturbance include:

Poor Diet and Food Allergies

Caffeine, sugar and spicy foods all contribute to sleep disturbances. Caffeine stays in the body for up to 20 hours, and sugar causes an emergency stress reaction in the blood that can disrupt your sleep. And alcohol, although it may help you fall asleep, disrupts deep sleep states and reduces sleep time.

Disrupted Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms, the biological clock that tells the body when to eat or sleep, can also affect the quality of your zzz's. Limited exposure to natural light, pharmaceutical drugs, electromagnetic fields, stress, travel or shift work-all can impair the pineal gland's ability to produce melatonin, a natural hormone that promotes sleep. Reprogramming your body clock to improve sleep is possible through diet changes, exercise, stress management and melatonin supplementation.

If you have trouble sleeping, Sahelian recommends 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams of melatonin once or twice a week an hour or two before bed. But beware that excessive amounts can have the opposite effect: More than 1 or 2 milligrams of melatonin can make you feel groggy the next day.

Electromagnetic rays can disrupt our body's ability to produce melatonin, says Brenner. She advises keeping alarm clocks at least three to five feet away from your head.

Get Your Beauty Sleep

Stress and Psychological Factorsstress and sleep
Because sleep is also our psyche's opportunity to work through unresolved psychological issues, says Brenner, "It can be hard on the body if you don't have enough sleep to process your emotional conflicts."

For people who have trouble sleeping, this can be a vicious cycle. "Because of stress and psychological factors, people develop an anticipatory fear that they won't be able to sleep that night, and they spend the whole day worrying about it," says Brenner. One way to break this pattern is to create a sleep ritual—a series of quiet, stress reducing activities—that you do each night before bed.

You can read or listen to calming music such as jazz or classical music. Don't over stimulate yourself. Look forward to the quite time.

Another sleep aide is to avoid bringing your worries to bed by setting aside "worry time" during the day, advises Sonia Ancoli-Israel, Ph.D., from the University of California. Spend 20 to 30 minutes during the day sitting quietly, thinking about whatever is bothering you.

Hormonal Imbalances
Men and women can experience sleep disturbances because of hormonal imbalances. When the primary sex hormones decline with age, the result can be changes in sleep patterns. It is possible to correct hormonal imbalances through traditional Chinese medicine, diet, herbs and hormone therapy.

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