Your One-Day Plan for Better Sleep
By Dana Leigh Smith
Tired of counting sheep? Follow our hour-by-hour plan and sleep like a baby—and slim down—tonight.
You’ve heard it a million times before: Sleep more to slim down. Although it may seem like overly simplified advice, it’s no joke! Losing a mere hour of shut-eye over the course of three days is enough to negatively impact the body’s hunger and appetite-regulating hormone, ghrelin. Quality sleep, on the other hand, fuels the production of fat-burning hormones, making it a top priority if you’re trying to drop a few pounds.
But catching more zzz’s isn’t always as easy as putting head to pillow. There are tons of things that influence how well you sleep each night, ranging from the obvious—caffeine intake—to subtler sleep hinderers. Getting a restful, full night’s sleep isn’t difficult, but it will require some tweaks to your daily routine. To help you out, we checked the science and put together an Eat This, Not That! exclusive one-day plan that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep! By this time tomorrow, you’ll be ready to turn in for for the kind of sleep you only used to get on vacation.
7 a.m.: Time to Rise and Shine
Setting your alarm clock to go off at the same time each day helps you sleep better. According to Kansas State University psychologists, occasionally sleeping in—even just once a week—can reset your body’s internal clock to a different sleep cycle, making it more difficult to nod off after you’ve crawled into bed.
7:30 a.m.: Head Outside
Within a half hour of waking up, lace up your sneakers and head outside for a quick walk around the block. If you aren’t a morning person, this can seem like a rough task to tackle, but it’s well worth your while. Here’s why: Getting a good night’s rest is all about getting your circadian cycle synced up to your lifestyle and schedule. In order for that to happen, your body needs to be exposed to light during the day. Since most of us spend most of our waking hours indoors, natural light exposure is pretty minimal; heading outside before your nine to five can help set you up for bedtime success.
Plus, spending some time in the sun can also increase your levels of vitamin D, a vitamin that over 40 percent of Americans don’t get enough of. According to scientists, not having enough of the vitamin in your system can cause sleep problems such as insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. Yikes! Why not just pop a pill? Although the association between vitamins and sleep is still unclear, preliminary research reveals that those who take supplements tend to sleep less soundly than those who don’t.
2 p.m.: Make a Starbucks Run
If you need a coffee jolt to get you through the afternoon, 2 p.m. is the latest you should place your order. Why? Research has found that caffeine can negatively impact sleep even when it's consumed six hours before bedtime. So enjoy that afternoon cup and then cut yourself off. Yes, this caffeine ban includes teas, sodas and decaf (it still has some of the stimulant), too. (Drop a couple more pounds by checking out our tricks for cutting starbucks calories.)
5:30 p.m.: Break a Sweat
Grab your sneakers, find a beat bumpin’ playlist and head to the gym after work—it may just be your ticket to a better night’s slumber. The National Sleep Foundation's 2013 Sleep In America survey revealed that regular, vigorous exercisers report getting the best sleep. A study published in the journal BioMed Research International had similar findings. The research revealed that moderate aerobic exercise can help insomniacs sleep more soundly and fall asleep more quickly.
If you’re not much of a gym rat, fear not! You don’t need to workout to exhaustion. Hitting the gym for 30 minutes five times a week should do the trick. Stuck at the office? You may want to reschedule your workout for another day. Since exercising increases heart rate and metabolism, hitting the treadmill too close to bedtime may make it more difficult to fall asleep.
7 p.m: Eat a Sleep-Better Supper
What do turkey, peanut butter and bananas all have in common? They’re all good sources of tryptophan, an amino acid with powerful sleep-inducing effects. (During the day, turn to the best fruit for weight loss instead.) But that’s not all! Tryptophan also converts to the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which can help boost feelings of calm and relaxation. To reap the benefits, enjoy some roasted turkey, a complex carbohydrate and a vegetable for your main meal and smear a tablespoon of peanut butter on half a banana as a healthy dessert. The tryptophan will help you nod off, while the combination of complex carbs and protein banishes midnight snack attacks that may wake you mid-slumber.
9:00 p.m.: Kill the Blue Glow
Bad news, Netflix fans: your late-night habit may make it more difficult to get a good night’s rest. According to recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research, the blue light emitted from electronic devices like your computer, iPad or LED television can impair the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which negatively affects sleep quality. If you can’t kick your late night tech habit altogether, download a free program called F.lux. Throughout the day the software gradually changes the light emissions from electronic devices from blue to a warm red, a hue that minimizes blue light’s stimulating effects. Unfortunately, it can’t do the same for your television, so you’ll just have to flip that off.
10:30 p.m.: Light Up Some Lavender
Every night, do the same relaxing activity (like reading a book or taking a warm bath) to signal to your body that it's time to wind down. Boost the calming effects of your late-night zen-fest even further by lighting a lavender candle. Studies have found that smelling lavender before bedtime acts as a mild sedative and promotes restful, restorative sleep. If you don’t want to light candles so lose to bed, sprinkle a couple drops of pure lavender oil on your pillow for the same effects.
10:45 p.m.: Part Ways with Fluffy
While you may love dozing off with your four-legged BFF, animals can be a bit restless. A Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center study found that 53 percent of people who sleep with their pet have disturbed rest and abnormal sleep patterns. So before putting yourself to bed, say goodnight to Fido and Fluffy, and head back to the bedroom solo.
11:00 p.m.: Hit the Hay
Shut the blinds and cozy into bed at the same time each night. It may take some getting used to, but following a consistent sleep schedule reinforces the body's sleep-wake cycle, promoting better sleep.
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