Your quality of sleep affects everything from your energy, mood and mental clarity to your self-control, waistline and overall health. Yet about one in three adults don't get enough shut-eye on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The novel coronavirus pandemic may be making it even more challenging to get restful sleep. In a survey of more than 1,000 people in France, a majority — 74 percent — reported experiencing sleep problems after 2 weeks of COVID-19 lockdowns, according to results published in June 2020 in the Journal of Sleep Research.
While there are many factors that play a role when it comes to your ability to fall 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.
Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
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 may impact 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, advises Robert Oexman, MD, 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," says Dr. Oexman.
This advice goes for cellphones, too: Plug them in outside the bedroom or turn on the "Do Not Disturb" feature to keep them from lighting up with notifications during the night.
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. Listening to music or an audiobook may help you relax, improving the quality of your sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Music has the ability to slow your heart rate and may even trigger muscle relaxation.
For some, however, noise before sleep may cause a disruption to sleep patterns. When you find what works for you, keep nighttime noise levels constant. Once (and if) you incorporate music into your nighttime routine, stick with it in order to improve your sleep over the longer term.
3. Cool It Down
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. Oexman.
Taking a warm shower or bath before bed can also help cue your body to start cooling off. A warm bath or shower (between 104 to 109 degrees) about 90 minutes before bed can significantly improve your sleep quality and help you fall asleep an average of 10 minutes faster, according to a review of more than 5,000 studies published in the August 2019 issue of Sleep Medicine Reviews.
4. Sniff a Soothing Scent
Can you sniff your way to a better night's sleep? Surprisingly, the answer may be yes.
Using essential oils has been shown to help improve sleep quality, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Lavender, in particular, has been associated with lower blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature, per an April 2012 study in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand.
Not into lavender? Choose a smell you like and stick with it even when you travel, Dr. Oexman says. Don't choose a scent you smell regularly during the day, though. Using the scent only at bedtime can help train your body and brain to connect it with sleep.
If essential oils aren't your thing, try this aww-worthy trick: Slip a T-shirt recently worn by your partner over your pillow to help you drift off to dreamland. It might sound corny, but a study accepted for publication in Psychological Science in February 2020 found that just the scent of a romantic partner can improve the quality of your zzzs.
5. Try a Taste of Tartness
Of all the five senses, taste is often forgotten during bedtime routines. While warm beverages can be soothing, tart cherry juice is a natural source of the sleep hormone melatonin. The benefit? Those who drank two 8-ounce glasses of tart cherry juice a day got an average of 85 minutes more sleep in an April 2014 study published in The FASEB Journal.
Foods with tryptophan can also help make you drowsy, according to the National Sleep Foundation. 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.
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- Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand: "The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity."
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep"
- National Sleep Foundation: "Can Music Help You Calm Down and Sleep Better?"
- National Sleep Foundation: "Best Essential Oils for a Good Night’s Sleep"
- The FASEB Journal: "Tart cherry juice increases sleep time in older adults with insomnia (830.9)"
- National Sleep Foundation: "Food and Sleep"
- Sleep Medicine Reviews: "Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis."
- Psychological Science: "Romance, Scent, and Sleep: The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of"
- Journal of Sleep Research: "Covid‐19 Health Crisis and Lockdown Associated With High Level of Sleep Complaints and Hypnotic Uptake at the Population Level"