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Is your bedroom preventing a good night's rest?

What changes do you need to make in your bedroom tonight to help you get more shuteye? Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern University, offers advice for getting a more restful night's sleep.

Sleeping environmentCreate a sleep-conductive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep — cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions. Also make your bedroom reflective of the value you place on sleep. Check your room for noise or other distractions, including a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring, light, and a dry or hot environment. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise,” humidifiers, fans and other devices. Also consider:

Noise: Make sure that the room is quiet. Running a fan or a “white noise maker” can help drown out sounds from the outdoors. Some people find ear plugs to be helpful. Noises at levels as low as 40 decibels or as high as 70 decibels generally keep us awake. Interestingly, however, the absence of a familiar noise can also disrupt sleep.

Light: A dark bedroom is best. It may be worth investing in room-darkening shades or blinds if your bedroom is too light

Temperature: About 65-68 degrees is ideal temperature. A cool bedroom is better for sleep than a warm one. Generally, temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees will awaken people.

Remember, your bedroom is your place to sleep, and we should condition our bodies to understand that.

Tips to help you get a good night's rest
It's important to establish a good sleep routine around the clock ... 24 hours a day. In other words, there are things you can do and pay attention to all day long that can impact how you sleep at night.

MorningMaintain a regular sleep and wake schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. This will help regulate your body's inner clock. Sticking to the same schedule is important on weekends, as well as weekdays. It is best to go to bed within an hour of your usual bedtime. If you are having problems sleeping, avoid naps because they can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Expose yourself to bright light and get plenty of exercise. Wake up and turn on all your lights. This will make you more alert. When we wake up, we're usually out of it for 20-40 minutes. That bright light helps alleviate sleep inertia. In addition, we should all be working out regularly. This makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. However, exercising sporadically or right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult.

Evening/after dinner
Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime. Both caffeine products (coffee, tea, colas and chocolate) and nicotine are stimulants that can produce an alerting effect. They remain in the body on average from 3 to 5 hours, but they can affect some people up to 12 hours later. When smokers go to sleep, they experience withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, which also cause sleep problems. Difficulty sleeping is just one more reason to quit smoking. And never smoke in bed or when sleepy! Although many people think of alcohol as a sedative, it actually disrupts sleep, causing nighttime awakenings.

Before bedEstablish a relaxing bedtime routine. Examples are soaking in a hot bath or hot tub and then reading a book or listening to soothing music. Allow yourself a half hour of relaxation before your targeted sleep time, and set aside worry time before bedtime. That way you're ready to sleep when you actually climb into bed. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep. Avoid arousing activities before bedtime like working, paying bills, engaging in competitive games or family problem-solving. Finally, avoid exposure to bright before bedtime because it signals the neurons that help control the sleep-wake cycle that it is time to awaken, not to sleep.

Sleep hygiene check list
How many of these healthy sleep habits are you following?

Improve sleep drive Are you avoiding naps, except for a brief 10 to 15 minute nap 8 hours after arising? Are you restricting your sleep period to the average number of hours you have actually slept in the preceding week? Are you staying physically and mentally active during the daytime? Do you drink a warm non-caffeine containing drink to help you relax as well as warm you?

Improve circadian rhythm Are you keeping a regular time out of bed 7 days a week? Are you avoiding exposing yourself to bright light if you have to get up at night? Are you getting at least one half hour of sunlight within 30 minutes of your out-of-bed time?

Drug effects
Have you stopped smoking to get yourself back to sleep? Have you given up smoking after 7pm or entirely? Are you limiting caffeine use to no more than three cups no later than 10am? Are you avoiding alcoholic beverages after 7pm?

Pre-sleep activities and sleep setting
Are you avoiding strenuous exercise after 7pm? Are you avoiding to eat or drink heavily for three hours before bedtime? Are you avoiding heavy meals and spices in the evening? Are you keeping your room dark, quiet, well ventilated, and at a comfortable temperature throughout the night? Are you using a bedtime ritual such as light music or breathing exercises before bedtime? Are you allowing “worry time” and listing your problems and what to do about the for the following day before bedtime? Are you using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, and avoiding other activities that lead to prolonged arousal?

For more information, check out the National Sleep Foundation.

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