Improve Sleep Quality: Habits, Patterns, Hygiene, Efficiency, Cycle, Sleeping Patterns, Sleep Better at Night
- One of the best ways to Improve Sleep Quality is to Start one of our DNA-based RDS programs that are custom-tailored to your genetic make-up.
Avoid excessive use of sleeping medications. An occasional sleeping pill may help now and then; however, chronic use may promote dependency that can exacerbate sleeping difficulties. You should limit your caffeine intake. Caffeine in the evening disturbs sleep---even in those who feel it does not! (Cola, chocolate, coffee, tea, etc.). Furthermore, you should limit your alcohol intake. While alcohol may help people fall asleep more easily, the ensuing sleep is disrupted when its effects wear off. Never go to bed angry. Taking work or worry to bed is a sure way to lose sleep. Make time to clear your mind before you get under the covers. Mask excessive, occasional loud noises. Homes near airports, trains or highways can experience loud noises that disturb sleep even in people who are not awakened by noises, and cannot remember them in the morning. Sound insulation or even just turning on a fan can help. Chronic use of tobacco disturbs sleep. Make sure you sleep in comfort. Choose a bed that contours to your unique body, encourages more proper spinal support, provides dual comfort zones and reduces pressure points.
In the past year or so, a handful of new devices have come on the market that promise to help you measure your sleep quality, learn when your good night goes bad, and even wake you up at the optimal time. They come in a range of guises, but they're all the result of two trends: sleep research that has given scientists a new understanding of what constitutes a good night's sleep, and cheaper, better sensors that make these tools affordable and easy to use.
Before I drill down into the devices, a bit of context on the benefits and science of tracking our sleep. I've written earlier here at HuffPost about the promise of self-tracking for improving our health -- and sleep is no exception. The premise of monitoring our sleep is a bit tricky, though, since we're, uh, supposed to be asleep. So we need to use sensors and proxies to measure things that we hope correspond to sleep quality through the night. Most of this boils down to measuring how long we spend in the five phases of sleep, from light sleep to REM to deep sleep.
The traditional approach to sleep research is called polysomnography, an intensive high-fidelity approach that typically requires more than 20 wires to be hooked up to the test subject. This noodle soup of nodes and cables measure everything from eye movement to leg movement to breathing and heart rate. This is the stuff of sleep labs, and though the measurements are highly detailed and thorough, they come with a catch: By requiring somebody to go to a sleep lab to be measured, your inherently messing up the experiment because the conditions have changed.
Here's why: Collecting the data requires the person with sleep troubles to leave their home environment -- their own bedroom, their own bed, their own sheets. That's not restful. Plus with all those wires and nodes, the sleep subject is bound to be disturbed by being literally tied down. So while the measurements may be precise and exacting, the experiment may not be replicating the same kind of sleep.
The alternative approach in sleep research is called actigraphy, and it pretty much takes the opposite direction. Rather than try to measure every last variable, actigraphy looks to measure just one metric -- movement -- with one sensor (called an accelerometer). What you lose in the details, the theory goes, you more than make up for in the setting. The sleep subject only needs to wear one sensor, usually on their wrist, and they can sleep in their own home, in their own bed.
Research has found that, while polysomnography data corresponds more closely to what actually happens during the night, actigraphy is surprisingly accurate, too. And that the environmental and other factors may more than make up for actigraphy's lack of detailed metrics.
The trade off between polysomnography and actigraphy has been well known among sleep researchers for several years. What's changed in the past couple years is that accelerometers have gotten really, really cheap. Following the familiar trajectory of Moore's Law, the price of accelerometers has dropped tremendously. This is why accelerometers are turning up in our shoes, in our cellphones, and in our videogames like Nintendo's Wii. They're incredibly powerful, smart devices that are wonderfully cheap and flexible.
Which brings us to the devices. There are lots of sleep trackers out there, but I've selected five here that seem promising and based in good science. I haven't tested them all myself, so I've provided links to hands-on reviews from other sources. Since the products mostly work with the same hardware, one area to look for distinctions is the software -- the website or app interface. How easy is the device to use and engage with the data it provides? In the end, if you want to start tracking your sleep, you should decide how much infomation you're willing to grapple with (or pore over), and how much you're willing to spend on the experiment.
Avoid too much of a good thing. As inviting as your bed might be, excessively long periods spent in bed lead to fragmented and shallow sleep. Make sure to sleep on a schedule. A regular bed time and wake up time will strengthen your internal clock and helps establish consistent, regular times of sleep onset. Follow a nighttime routine---same time, same order! Such a routine cues your body that it's bedtime. Make sure you exercise regularly. Studies indicate that regular, daily exercise deepens sleep. Occasional exercise does not necessarily improve the sleep the following night. Don't exercise right before bedtime. Make sure you moderate the temperature. Excessively warm rooms (above 76 degrees) disturb sleep (less REM Delta sleep, more awakenings). However, excessively cold rooms do not solidify sleep. 65-70 degrees is considered ideal. And last but not least, make sure to eat right. Hunger tends to disturb sleep. Therefore, a light snack before bed tends to help sleep. Heavy meals right before bedtime tend to interfere with sleep.
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