Popular New Year’s resolutions focus on losing weight, working out, eating better, stressing less, quitting bad habits and being more productive.
Yet many people might be surprised to learn how closely sleep relates to achieving most of these goals. Getting enough quality rest is associated with healthier body weight, greater motivation and smarter food choices. And sleep helps the brain operate better, facilitating learning, stress management, problem solving and attention.
On its own merits, securing proper sleep meets the requirements of setting a good goal in terms of being measurable, doable and beneficial: It's easy to specify the amount of sleep needed, chart out realistic steps and track progress.
Here are 10 ways to bring home better sleep this year and make it one of better repose and health.
1. Set a better-sleep goal.
The best way to start improving a habit is to clarify a goal. Perhaps it's getting a full eight hours every night or sleeping and waking up earlier. The key is to set a clear objective.
2. Create motivation.
Consciously thinking about why a goal is important helps develop the motivation to start making progress and continue doing so.
On a notepad, whiteboard or phone, make a list of the better-sleep benefits that seem like the best motivations, motivating, such as becoming healthier, losing weight, having more energy or getting more done. Keep this list in an accessible place.
3. Make a plan and start.
Next, outline the steps to arrive at the end goal. Many people find it easier to adapt to gradual changes. For example, planning to go to bed 10 to 15 minutes earlier each week may be more doable than making a full-scale two-hour change all at once.
Yet, after hectic holiday schedules, a hard reset over a long weekend may feel most practical. Whatever works best for the situation, plan out a few actionable steps to start working on.
Putting off goals and resolutions can be easy after the initial motivation fades, so take the first step as soon as possible. What better night to begin than tonight?
4. Sleep-proof the bedroom.
Bedrooms serve as the backdrop for efforts to arrive at quality sleep, and factors such as light, temperature, noise and distractions can have a big impact. Start the year off right by organizing and decluttering the room.
Avoid disrupting light by limiting electronics and using blackout shades or an eye mask. Those living in noisy surroundings can benefit from a sound conditioner or earplugs. At night, room temperatures should be cool and bedding clean and breathable.
5. Have a few bedtime strategies in mind.
Trying to go to sleep earlier than usual isn’t easy for some people. Many have difficulty tuning out the world at night. Become familiar with strategies like guided relaxation, deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation and other calm-inducing tactics. (The Mayo Clinic's site provides a good overview.) Having tools on tap to fall back on helps avoid stress and anxiety around bedtime.
6. Ditch televisions and tablets.
Research has pointed to the sleep-stealing effects of electronics, including TV, tablets, e-readers, laptops and smartphones. These devices give off light which affects the body’s sleep clock and creates mental distractions.
If struggling to fall asleep and having too few hours asleep sound familiar, reducing evening electronic use may be helpful.
7. Check for sneaky stimulants.
When striving to fall asleep earlier than usual, watch out for dietary sources of stimulants, especially in the afternoon and evening. Consider swapping caffeinated coffee, tea and sodas for pure water or decaf after lunch.
Other edibles like hot spices, chocolate and sugar can be stimulating to the digestive system, making them poor prebed snacks. Better late-night noshes according to experts interviewed by Time include nuts, crackers, wheat bread, popcorn, veggies or small portions of protein.
8. Avoid postweekend lag.
Regular to-bed and wake times keep biological sleep clocks on track and make it easier to avoid sleep troubles. Staying up late on a weekend can mean less sleep on Sunday night and challenge efforts to settle back into a routine on Monday.
Try to normalize schedules with less than an hour of variation, even on the weekend. In addition to avoiding postweekend lag, regular sleep and wake times might even help support healthy body weight.
9. Nap smarter.
Naps have been associated with various benefits and deficits depending on time of day and length. Some experts suggest forgoing naps altogether when resetting a sleep schedule. Those who do like napping should try to plan these mini rests near their natural dip in alertness (usually around lunchtime) and limit them to less than 30 minutes so as not throw off nighttime patterns.
10. Keep checking progress
An important part of accomplishing goals is to continue monitoring progress. Set a regular calendar reminder to do so, perhaps once a month. This can help provide encouragement to stick with the plan even after going off track once in a while. There are also plenty of sleep-tracking apps and wearable devices if more detailed monitoring and analytics would inspire greater motivation.
Unlike fad diets and other short-lived goals, aiming to sleep better in 2015 will pay off for years to come. It’s one of the best ways to support several aspects of health at once. It’s easy and doesn’t cost much either. All it takes is a little motivation and integrating healthy sleep habits into the usual routine.
Do you plan to get better sleep this year? What measures help you secure better rest?