With the health insurance marketplace now open for 2019 enrollment, you might be spending a little extra time thinking about your personal well-being. As you compare plans and weigh costs, it can be downright unsettling to make predictions about how many insurance services you’ll be using during the upcoming year. (Really, who wants to entertain that kind of depressing hypothetical?) But the truth is, with proper self-care and healthy habits, you can make realistic assumptions about your future health. And while a balanced diet and regular exercise are important, so is adopting healthy sleep patterns.
Did you know the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared sleep deficiency an epidemic in the United States?
If you’re thinking “Well, that’s a bit excessive, isn’t it?” consider this: lack of sleep increases a person’s chance of developing chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, affecting public health. It leaves them drowsy and unable to concentrate, contributing to a greater risk of car crashes and aviation accidents.
Work performance suffers, too. And when your job involves saving lives or operating heavy machinery, sleep deficiency can have tragic consequences. Factor in that the CDC reports 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, and the importance of healthy sleep patterns really begins to sink in.
So, how did we get to this place of constant fatigue?
Well, according to the people in the white lab coats, it’s our behaviors during the day that largely affect our ability to sleep at night. From our activity levels to the food we consume, it all bears weight. Below are some established tips to help set yourself up for a good night’s sleep throughout the day, as well as some tricks I’ve found helpful on my own path to a better snooze.
Wake up at the same time every day.
I don’t know about you, but I often approach sleep time like the “roll-over minutes” cell phone carriers used to offer. Whatever I didn’t use during the week, I just cashed in on the weekend. (I don’t need to tell you how that works out.)
Something I’ve found helpful lately is putting my alarm clock (and phone) on the other side of the room—this way I have to physically get out of bed to shut it off. While it doesn’t always keep me up, it helps.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends exposing yourself to bright light in the morning to pull your brain out of sleep mode. Good ol’ fashioned sunlight works best, but for those of us entering the winter doldrums, consider a wake-up light alarm clock, like this one by Philips.
Additionally, many smartphones now have built-in sleep tracker apps that set reminders when it’s time to get ready for bed. It also keeps a diary of your rest, making it that much easier to establish healthy sleep patterns.
Adopt a healthy diet and exercise routine.
Cold weather means less time outside and, for me at least, holiday treats loaded with refined sugar. The lack of physical motion and uptick of sweets often leads to energy crashes, headaches, and a general feeling of malaise.
For me, taking one day a week to meal-plan has been nothing short of lifesaving. While I don’t always manage to stick to it, knowing I have healthy options ready-to-go in the fridge makes me significantly more likely to choose them.
As for getting that body moving? SELF Magazine recommends writing down your workout goals and planning your schedule in advance. If that just seems like more work to you, SELF suggests finding a buddy to hold you accountable, crafting a killer playlist to get you motivated, or simply putting money on it and signing up for a paid class. Just 20-30 minutes of exercise a day can have a noticeable effect on your quality of sleep, not to mention the wonders it will do for your health.
Avoid heavy meals before bed.
While a big meal—especially one loaded with delicious carbohydrates—can make you feel warm and fuzzy and in dire need of a nap, eating that much food before bed is not the way to healthy sleep patterns. Aside from instituting bad eating habits, all that food before you hit the hay can cause some serious indigestion.
Laying down after a heavy meal encourages all that nasty stomach acid to splash up into your esophagus, leading to heart burn, sore throat, burping, and a hoard of other unpleasant side effects. As an acid reflux sufferer, I’ve found keeping my meals 2-3 hours before bedtime to be a big help. And when I do get late-night cravings, I reach for one of these great suggestions.
Keep the booze for happy hour.
While a nightcap might help you fall asleep, it can also aggravate heart burn or cause breathing difficulties. Additionally, it disrupts your REM sleep, often leading to a groggy morning and poor focus.
Consider substituting chamomile tea or some warm milk about 30 minutes to an hour before bed time. When I feel particularly restless, Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea never lets me down. Placebo or no, I’m often dozing before I can even finish the cup.
Put the electronics AWAY.
Nighttime light exposure is proven to have a negative affect on healthy sleep patterns. Harvard Health notes that “Even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion.” And as we increase our interaction with electronic screens and energy-saving LEDs and fluorescents, we increase our exposure to blue light—the worst offender when it comes to brain-stimulating wavelengths.
To protect yourself from the adverse effects of blue light, Harvard Medical School recommends swapping in dim red lights for night lights, avoiding bright screens at least 2 hours before bed, and considering blue-blocking glasses for extended computer use.
Consider your environment.
Last but not least, it’s important to create a space that you actually want to sleep in. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends keeping your bedroom “quiet, cool, and dark” to facilitate better sleep.
Give the room a good tidying up. Dirty laundry strewn about or work papers stacked on a dresser are only going to stress you out. Consider using an essential oil diffuser to promote relaxation. And honestly, is there anything better than crawling into a freshly made bed with crisp, clean sheets? Treat the room like a sanctuary and you’ll want to spend more time in there. Restful sleep will follow.
What are you waiting for?
Establishing healthy sleep patterns will help you ward off life-threatening chronic illnesses. It will make you a better employee, with faster recall and quicker reflexes. But most importantly, it will make you feel better. Life is stressful enough, don’t compound it by depriving yourself of something as simple—but important—as a good night’s sleep.
The health insurance marketplace closes on December 15. That gives you plenty of time to not only start employing some of these tips, but to begin seeing results as well. And with a clear mind and lifted mood, making health predictions for 2019 won’t seem like such a daunting task—in fact, it might just get you excited about those new year resolutions!
Take care and sweet dreams.