Quality sleep can make you look years younger and feel less grumpy, and protect you against weight gain, depression, heart disease and diabetes. Plus, new research suggests that good sleep can help prevent brittle bones and serious digestive-system problems.
Unfortunately, a whopping 50 million to 70 million of you don't get enough deep, refreshing sleep. You're up late working, tweeting, watching late night TV, opening a box of Girl Scout cookies ... and, often, doing all that at the same time. As a result, your body clock gets discombobulated, and that makes levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the feed-me hormone ghrelin rise; production of blood-sugar-controlling insulin gets messed up. As a result, you gain weight and may see your blood pressure and blood sugar rise. You become more vulnerable to infections because your immune system takes a hit, too. One new study from Oregon Health and Science University suggests that the systems that erode and then rebuild your bones get thrown out of whack, so there's more tearing down and less reconstruction. And recent research from Massachusetts General Hospital and Rush University Medical Center has found that getting less than five to six hours of shut-eye on a regular basis increases risk for flare-ups of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
Sometimes it's wise to start your quest for better sleep at your doctor's office. Make an appointment if you have severe or long-standing insomnia or signs of obstructive sleep apnea (like extreme daytime tiredness or a partner's report that you snort and gasp for breath at night).
Otherwise, try these better-sleep strategies:
Clean up your sleep routine. Good sleep hygiene tells your mind and body that it's time to sleep. We recommend: no coffee within three hours and no exercise within two hours of bedtime. Keep your bedroom cool and dark at night. No TV, computers or smartphone before bed (the blue light resets your brain to morning time!). And, of course, make time for intimacy.
Skip the nightcap. A drink at bedtime can help you fall asleep faster, but as your body processes it, your restorative stages of sleep are dinged. You'll feel drowsier in the morning, and a study from Australia's University of Melbourne suggests that you may have trouble with memory and sharp thinking, too.
Kick pets off your bed. A new Mayo Clinic study reported that 1-in-10 pet owners had their sleep disturbed by their animals. Cats and dogs snored, whimpered, wandered and begged to go outside. If possible, have them sleep in their own cage or space, and if they keep you up, keep them out of the bedroom.
Eat healthy fats. Say "yes" to fish, like salmon, wild trout and sardines, or take 900 mg of algal-based DHA daily. They're all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is key for brain function. In one British study, getting plenty of these beneficial fats every day was associated with longer, deeper sleep. It could be because omega-3 levels are linked with healthy levels of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
Take a power nap. In a new French study, stress hormone levels rose and a protein associated with strong immunity fell in sleep-deprived people. But those who caught a 30-minute catnap found that immune functions were restored and stress hormone levels returned to normal. Nap early (before 5 p.m.) so your bonus snoozing doesn't interfere with nightly sleep.
Still not sleeping? Try CBT-I. That's short for "cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia," a short course of therapy aimed at retraining your mind and body for great sleep. Studies s