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UB sleep expert offers 5 tips for a better night's rest


Thu, Jan 18th 2024 06:50 pm

Carleara Weiss says improved sleep can have emotional, physical and mental health benefits

By the University at Buffalo

Carleara Weiss, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Nursing, is familiar with the seasonal habit of setting new health and wellness goals for the new year.

“Dry January, starting a new diet, and breaking other harmful habits are regularly listed as wellness goals,” says Weiss, whose scholarly expertise is behavioral sleep medicine and circadian rhythms.

“Sleep, unfortunately, is often forgotten when setting new goals,” she says. “If people knew the value of sleep for physical, mental and emotional well-being, sleep would be the top priority in every new year’s resolution.”

Weiss shared the following sleep tips that should help people – particularly tailored for individuals in Buffalo and other regions with long winters – set realistic milestones to sleep better and prioritize their health in 2024.

“Remember,” she says, “wellness is a journey, not a destination. Be kind to yourself when making these changes.”

•Wake up at the same time every day and get exposure to bright light upon awakening

“A good night’s sleep starts in the morning with a consistent wake-up time and bright light,” Weiss says. “This combination helps the biological clock understand that it is ‘go-time’ – wake up, shut down melatonin, and be ready for the day, both physically and mentally. For us in Buffalo, with a long and gray winter, this step is extra essential and helps fight seasonal affective disorder (also known as seasonal depression). Ditch the snooze button and keep consistency during weekdays and weekends to avoid social jet lag.

“P.S. – life happens. Be kind to yourself if you need to adjust this rule.”

•Do not skip breakfast

“Eating breakfast – real food, not just coffee – is another essential cue to build a robust circadian rhythm, improve physical function during the day, and sleep better at night. Our biological clock uses mealtime to organize hormones and metabolism. Eating breakfast is critical for that.”

•Exercise daily

“You do not have to run a marathon or become a CrossFit superstar overnight, but regular physical activity will help the biological clock function better,” Weiss says. “The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. That is roughly 30 minutes per day, and can be achieved with the exercise of your preference. Daily exercise relieves stress, reduces cortisol levels, reduces sleep onset latency (how long it takes to fall asleep), and improves sleep quality. All this while also improving your cardiovascular health. It is a win-win.”

•Create a bedtime routine that allows your brain to unwind before bed

“There is no on and off switch to turn off the brain,” Weiss says. “As I explain to my students, our brain works similarly to laptops – we often have multiple tabs open and running in the background. All those tabs stay open when we close the computer and put it on sleep mode. (May I add that they drain the battery!) This hurts our brain when we don’t try to unwind before going to bed. We are likely to experience insomnia, wake up thinking of work, and become unable to fall asleep again.

“Decompress before bedtime with sleep-friendly options such as reading, meditation, a warm shower, spending quality time with a loved one, and then closing all those tabs before bed. It may be helpful to organize the next day's schedule, keeping things on a planner or calendar so your brain does not need to worry about it during slumber.”

•Don’t check your phone if you wake up in the middle of the night

“Light, as I mentioned earlier, is a potent stimulus for wakefulness,” Weiss says. “So, that blue light from the phone and other electronic devices will negatively affect your sleep quality and duration. While keeping the phone away during sleep is not always realistic – we want to know if someone calls, for example, or check the baby's camera if we need it – my advice is to fight the urge to check social media or emails in the middle of the night. One suggestion is to block email notifications during sleep time or set a sleep mode where emails and social media notifications are not allowed."

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are based on the opinions and/or research of the faculty member(s) or researcher(s) quoted, and do not represent the official positions of the University at Buffalo or Niagara Frontier Publications.

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