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A new study looked at the sleep quality of 49 office workers — 27 who sit in windowless workspaces, and 22 who have windows in their workspace. It turns out those with windows received an average of 173% more natural light exposure during work hours, and slept an average of 46 minutes more each night than their windowless peers.
Forbes reports, “Workers who get more sunlight also tend to be more physically active according to this study. And an additional analysis of overall quality of life suggests that they’re generally happier, too. Office workers without windows reported more physical ailments and lower vitality, along with lower sleep quality.”
Happiness, exercise and better sleep, all thanks to more time in the sun. It seems like this should come as no surprise. We need sunlight to keep our circadian rhythm going, which tells our bodies when to be awake and asleep. We also need sunlight to get vitamin D, which plays a role in many aspects of our health.
Even if you are stuck in an office that doesn’t have much natural light during the day, you can help yourself get better sleep at night by getting a good dose of sunshine early in the morning. The early-morning sunlight helps set your circadian clock correctly. How Stuff Works writes:
“How does morning light improve sleep? The light helps to regulate your biological clock and keep it on track. This internal clock is located in the brain and keeps time not all that much differently from your wristwatch. There does, however, appear to be a kind of forward drift built into the brain. By staying up later and, more importantly, getting up later, you enforce that drift, which means you may find you have trouble getting to sleep and waking up when you need to.
“To counter this forward drift, you need to reset your clock each day, so that it stays compatible with the earth’s 24-hour daily rhythm — and with your daily schedule. Exposing yourself to light in the morning appears to accomplish this resetting.”
So something as simple as taking a walk first thing in the morning (if you wake up with the sun) or walking or cycling to work in the morning sunshine can all help you get better sleep at night. Extra time in the sun, such as lunch-time walks wouldn’t hurt either.
It shouldn’t take a study to tell us that spending more time in our natural environments, even if that just means enjoying the sun, makes us healthier people. But in case you were waiting for some researchers to prove it, well, here is your evidence.
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The CDC calls insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, those who suffer from insomnia know it more as an awful vexing nuisance that hampers quality of life and taxes productivity. Not only that, it is linked to everything from car crashes and occupational errors to chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as cancer and increased mortality. Oh, elusive sleep!
An estimated 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder, and about 4 percent of American adults use a prescription sleep aid, not to mention over-the-counter medications. But both families of sleep aids have their host of problems and side effects, from allergic reactions to “complex sleep-related behavior,” in which a person taking sleep-inducing sedatives might get up at night, eat, make phone calls, have sex, and even get in the car and go for a drive, all while not really quite awake. To sleep, perchance to get up and sleep-call an ex – ay, there’s the rub.
In the meantime, there has been ample research looking into foods that can help you sleep better. While they may not conk you out as forcefully as a sleeping pill, they can definitely have an effect. So in an effort to steer clear of pharmaceuticals and avoid a potentially embarrassing “complex sleep-related behavior,” here are some of the foods that experts say can inspire some Zs.
- Tart cherry juice
Research out of Louisiana State University found that adults with insomnia who drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks had an average of 84 more minutes of sleep time nightly compared to two-week periods in which they drank no juice or a placebo. It is thought that cherry juice’s natural supply of the sleep-wake cycle hormone melatonin and the sleep-friendly amino acid tryptophan are behind the magic. Study co-author Frank L. Greenway, says, “Proanthocyanidins, or the ruby red pigments in tart cherry juice, contain an enzyme that reduces inflammation and decreases the breakdown of tryptophan, letting it go to work longer in your body.”
A study from Taiwan’s Taipei Medical University found that eating two kiwi fruits around an hour before bedtime had surprising results. Psychology Today reports that study participants fell asleep more quickly, with a decrease in falling-asleep time of 35.4 percent. They also slept 28.9 percent more soundly and slept better, with a 42.4 percent improvement on a standardized sleep quality questionnaire. Overall, total sleep time for the study subjects increased by 13.4 percent.
A University of Oxford study found that higher blood levels of omega-3 DHA (the fatty acids found in algae and seafood) were linked to better sleep. In a randomized, placebo-controlled study, the researchers examined if 16 weeks of taking 600 mg of algae supplement would improve the sleep of 362 children. Indeed, they found the children experienced better sleep, including less bedtime resistance, parasomnias and total sleep disturbance.
University of Texas researchers found that walnuts are a great source of melatonin and that eating them can lead to higher blood levels of this internal-clock controlling hormone, resulting in improved sleep.
A study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine found that if the body is suffering from low levels of magnesium, sleep problems often ensue. The National Institutes of Health lists almonds as the number one source of magnesium; adding almonds to your diet is good all around, but may be especially good for boosting some shut-eye.
Here’s one from grandma’s natural remedy playbook. According to the National Institutes of Health, chamomile tea is a traditional remedy to treat insomnia and induce calm. Widely regarded as a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer, studies confirm its calming effect. One Japanese study found that chamomile extract helped rats fall asleep as effectively as rats that got a dose of the tranquilizer, benzodiazepine! Use two or three tea bags for best effect, and make sure to cover the cup while steeping.
Peanut butter sandwich
Researchers say that a spike of insulin can change our circadian rhythms and can induce sleep. A good dose of carbs and sugars can make people feel sluggish and so eating carbs at dinner can help slow your body down and prepare it for sleep. The National Sleep Foundation suggests a mix of protein and carbohydrates to induce slumber – peanut butter, or better yet, almond butter, on whole grain toast may be all you need to bring out your inner Morpheus.
While some people may find the prospect of starting the day without a shower a bit daunting, there’s a lot to be said for washing at night. Especially if you have trouble sleeping.
A recent article at Time.com extolls perhaps the single best virtue of PM showering, noting that if you want to improve your sleep, showering at night is the way to go. “Experts say there’s evidence that a night shower can help you drift off,” Abigail Abrams writes, “if you time it just right.” But there’s more good than just good sleep that can come from a moonlight shower. Consider the following:
But first things first, better sleep. Abrams explains that body temperature is a key component in regulating circadian rhythm, the inner clock that tells the body when to feel sleepy or bright-eyed. Researchers have found that warming your body can help bring on sleep as long as there’s enough time to cool down afterward. While the studies were examining baths, a 20-minute shower would work the same, says Shelby Harris, director of behavioral sleep medicine at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center. Just be sure to aim for the circadian sweet spot and finish your shower about an hour and a half before you go to bed.
A clean bed
Do you really want to sleep with all the grime-sweat-germs you picked up during the day? Showering before slipping between the sheets promises you won’t be stewing all night with the things you gathered all day.
How often do you launder your pajamas and sheets? However often it is, you can do it less frequently if you are not introducing a dirty body into them every night.
Washing your face before bed is not exclusive to showering, but doing them together makes it much easier. According to the National Sleep Foundation, washing your face before bed helps reduce breakouts, improves your moisturizer’s efficacy, helps prevents wrinkles and lessens your chance of eye infections.
An improved morning routine
While a shower can certainly wake you up, skipping one is nothing a cold splash of water on the face and a cup of coffee (if you swing that way) can’t cure. One wonderful bonus of showering at night means that you free up that shower-drying time in the morning for something else that brings you joy – which is the best way to start the day. Whether it be meditation, sunrise viewing, writing, morning quality time with a partner or family member, a relaxed cup of coffee with a book … or even an extra 20 minutes of sleep, you can now have the extra time to do it.
Instead of thinking about how many hours to sleep, working with sleep cycles could be the key to a restful night.
So here’s the sleepy conundrum. The Mayo Clinic offers a general recommendation of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults; which perfectly straddles that 8-hours goal that many of us know. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Health Index, Americans report sleeping an average of 7 hours and 36 minutes a night. Yet despite getting enough sleep, 35 percent of Americans report their sleep quality as poor and many (many) are the complaints of waking up not feeling refreshed.
Could it be that striving for a set amount of hours is the wrong approach? As it turns out, research is beginning to suggest that, as The Telegraph points out, “we should forget about counting how many hours sleep we’re getting – and instead start thinking about sleep according to the cycles it works in.”
And I have to say, from experience this resonates. I have had plenty of nights with enough sleep – and even more sleep than usual – only to wake up groggy beyond reason; while other nights the sleep is scant but I don’t feel wretched. Likewise, a nap that’s more than 20 minutes leaves me wrecked for hours; the dreaded “sleep inertia.”
Author and sleep expert Dr. Laura Lefkowitz explains it like this: “The brain has a pattern of sleep. It’s not like you just fall asleep and hour one is the same as hours two and three and five and nine. It goes through cycles. Within each there is what we call non-REM sleep, and then REM sleep.”
Each cycle lasts for around 90 minutes, and disrupting the cycle can affect how you feel when you wake up. The goal is to wake at the end of a sleep cycle, when we’re in light sleep and the body and brain wake up most easily. Waking up in the midst of a deep sleep cycle can wreak havoc on your feelings of restfulness.
Now you may be asking, how does one manage to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle? The answer is to go to bed at the right time, like, to the minute, according to a new on-line sleep calculator. The tool works backwards from your wake-up time to figure out the optimal time to go to bed; for example, for my 5:50 a.m. wake-up time, I should aim for 8:36 p.m., 10:06 p.m., 11:36 pm or 1:06 p.m. (And falling-asleep time is factored in there.) Conversely, if you use the calculator when you’re tired and about to go to sleep, it will advise at what time to set your alarm.
Could the silver bullet for sleep woes be as simple as this? Sleeping in tidy chunks of 90-minute phases? There’s only one way to find out: try the calculator.
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