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How to build a good sleep routine

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Do you struggle to go to sleep, stay asleep, or get enough? About 70 million Americans struggle with various sleep concerns. Studies show that lack of sleep is "associated with injuries, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, poor quality of life and well-being, increased health care costs, and lost work productivity."

Why is sleep important for your weight care journey?

A good night's sleep helps your body regulate glucose (blood sugar) and hormones. A lack of sleep, however, can trigger changes to hormones that regulate hunger and appetite (leptin and ghrelin), making us more inclined to overeat the next day and make poorer food choices—basically, the hormonal changes prompt cravings for foods full of empty calories and sugar. Studies about sleep deprivation and BMI show associations between an increase in sleep duration and decreased obesity.

When sleep is lacking, it may prevent weight loss even for those who are cutting calories, according to studies conducted at the Sleep Research Center at the University of Chicago. People who were sleep-deprived and on a calorie-restricted diet lost 55 percent less body fat and 60 percent more fat-free mass than people on the same diet who got adequate sleep. This is one of the many reasons why sleep is so important as part of a weight care routine.

Many of us focus on physical activity and meal planning for weight care—but the connections between sleep and body weight show we should pay just as much attention to routine sleep. Here are 11 ways to help you establish good sleep hygiene.

  1. Wake up at the same time every day. You can set a better routine for the wake-sleep cycle by establishing a consistent wake time. Once you do, it will make getting up and going to bed easier and add reliability and consistency to your day.

  2. Exercise to promote good quality sleep. Even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can dramatically improve nighttime sleep quality. Early morning through midafternoon is a good time to work out to give you a burst of energy to help fuel the rest of your day!

  3. Get enough natural light in the day and limit light at night. Exposure to sunlight in the morning and throughout the day helps support your body's desire to stay alert. The same goes for the evening; dark settings are ideal for helping you begin your sleep cycle. Bright lights within two hours of your bedtime impede your ability to fall asleep, cutting into sleep time.

  4. Keep daytime naps to 10-30 minutes (and nap only if needed). It is important that if you choose to nap, you do it no less than eight hours before your regular bedtime. Napping too close to your bedtime could disrupt your ability to fall and stay asleep that evening. While napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep, a short 10-minute nap can improve your mood, alertness, and performance. 

  5. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime. Just like your naps, you should also moderate your caffeine and alcohol consumption. Caffeine consumed within six hours of going to sleep has been shown to have disruptive effects on the quality of sleep. As for alcohol, though it may feel like a sleep aid, too much too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep over the course of the night because your heart rate goes up as your body metabolizes it. 

  6. Finish eating two to three hours before bed. Eating right before bedtime can increase insulin and blood sugar levels. It can also lead to weight gain, according to research. If you get hungry before bed, have a light snack that's easy to digest, such as a banana or some yogurt.

  7. Avoid certain foods too close to bedtime. These include heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks. This can lead to painful heartburn and acid reflux that will interrupt sleep.

  8. Make sure that your sleep environment is pleasant. For optimal sleep, keep your bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees. Blue light from cell phones and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep, so turn those lights off, wear blue light blocker glasses, or adjust them when possible. Consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, white noise machines, humidifiers, fans, and other devices that can make your bedroom more relaxing.

  9. Establish a regular, relaxing evening routine. According to the Sleep Foundation, the natural sleep-wake cycle in your brain begins its wind-down process hours before going to bed. Set up an evening routine to help your body recognize that bedtime is coming soon. This could include using blue light blockers after the sun goes down, taking an evening shower, reading a book, or light stretching. When possible, avoid emotionally stimulating conversations, activities, or shows to help aid this process.

  10. Aim to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. If you can't hit that number, don't fret, but try to reserve your time in bed for quiet time or sleeping. In other words, no working or eating in bed.

  11. Manage stress to manage sleep. Do you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night worrying about things? Create a routine to help clear your mind. A great tool would be to do a brain dump in the evening as a part of your routine. Get a notepad and pen. Write out all the thoughts that are running through your head. This way, all the things that concern you won't be forgotten, and you'll be able to sleep well.

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