Getting enough sleep is one of the most essential aspects of good health.
Without the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, you become susceptible to heart disease, mood disorders, obesity, diabetes, illness, depression and stress, not to mention diminished productivity and impaired decision making skills. Given that, it’s imperative to make sure you get enough quality sleep to stay healthy and feel your best.
If you like technology, there are plenty of sleep gadgets and apps out there, like cooling mattresses and sunrise simulators, that make counting sheep a thing of the past. Here are a few options, plus tips from a sleep specialist, to help you peacefully drift off to sleep each and every night.
Ambient noise machine ($50-$200) or fan ($10)
These devices produce white noise, which sounds like rushing water or intense wind. The constant noise blocks random sounds, like traffic or slamming doors, which could otherwise wake you up. The result is deep and continuous sleep and a more restful night. Just make sure you sleep without the ambient noise occasionally to avoid becoming too reliant on the sound.
Phillips Wake-Up Light ($99)
If the not so gentle buzz of your alarm clock is a rude awakening in the morning, then check out the Phillips Wake-Up Light. Set your wake time and the light simulates sunrise and gradually increases in intensity for 30 minutes. The principle is that the body relies on the natural rising and setting of the sun to determine our sleep patterns. In fact, our bodies release chemicals and start the process of waking up when the sun hits our eyelids. The Wake-Up Light recreates this process, creating a less jarring transition for sleeping to waking and allowing you to feel less groggy throughout the day. Turn on the light before bed and it simulates dusk to help you fall asleep more peacefully. This feature is helpful if you need to fall asleep while the sun is still out or if you are travelling and suffer from jet lag.
FitBit One ($129), Jawbone Up ($129)
You might be familiar with FitBit and Jawbone Ups as tools to help you get in shape, but did you also know they can help you get a better night’s sleep? Wear the trackers to bed and a built-in accelerometer notes when you fall asleep, each time you wake up during the night and distinguishes between deep sleep and light sleep. The device’s corresponding websites and apps graph all the information to give you insight into your sleep patterns. Plus, instead of an annoying alarm, a silent vibration wakes you and not your partner.
Eye Mask ($10)
While blackout shades and curtains are the optimal way to make your room dark, the low tech eye mask may be the ideal option if those are not possible. Find a soft mask that covers from your forehead, over your eyes and to your cheekbones. Eye masks are a nice option for shift workers who need to sleep during daylight hours.
Apps to track your sleep
If you feel fatigued during the day, use your smartphone to learn about and improve your sleep patterns. When we sleep, we alternate through light and deep sleep cycles. Sleep as Android (for Android platforms, free) and Sleep Cycle for (for iPhone users, $1.99) use a sensitive accelerometer to tracks these sleep cycles. Set a 30 minute wake up window, and the apps use this information to wake you at the optimum time during a light sleep cycle. This method is much gentler than an alarm clock, which can be jarring, as clocks wake you regardless of your sleep cycle.
Sleep as Android also graphs and logs your sleep times for the week, and complies hours of sleep of deficit and hours of deep sleep. Sleep Cycle allows you to add notes to each night of sleep like “drank coffee” or “felt stressed out.” This makes it possible to see how your sleep quality corresponds to daily activities.
If you have ever fought with your significant other over bedroom temperature, then the Chilipad might be the thing to finally end all those arguments. The Chilipad is a mattress pad that uses semiconductors and water circulation technology to temperature control your bed. Heated or cooled water flows through soft mattress coils so one side of the mattress stays cool while the other side can be warm and toasty.
While gadgets can be helpful, Dr. Anand Gersappe, the medical director of the Sleep Center at Swedish Hospital Redmond, also has a few tips. He specializes in sleep disorder diagnosis and therapy including insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
1. Get on a regular sleep schedule
“We all have a circadian rhythm governed by lightness and darkness,” said Dr. Gersape. “Respecting that is very important.”
Think of circadian rhythm as your internal body clock that tells you when to fall asleep and when to wake up. It’s naturally tuned with the sunrise and sunset. Keeping the circadian rhythm as regular as possible means going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday, even on the weekends. Once you regulate your circadian rhythm you will find sleeping and waking come much more naturally.
2. Put away the distracting electronics
We live in a 24/7 world, so smartphones, tablets and televisions often make their way into the bedroom. Dr. Gersappe said all these electronics “are probably the biggest offender of sleep hygiene.” The light emitted from the screens tells out body to stay awake, so Dr. Gersappe advises putting the devices away 30-45 minutes before bed. Instead of catching up on Facebook, try doing something relaxing like meditation or yoga.
Along with the myriad of health benefits exercise provides, like lowering blood pressure, building muscles and reducing stress, “exercise is a great promoter of sleep,” according to Dr. Gersappe. Just make sure you don’t exercise too close to your bedtime, since it can make you feel more awake. Dr. Gersappe advises working out early in the day or three hours before bedtime. He adds that exercising a few hours before bedtime can actually ready your body temperature for bed, making it easier to sleep.
4. No caffeine
Cutting out the daily coffee is a tall task, especially in Seattle. But caffeine can keep you awake even hours after you order your latte. “Cut it out afternoon around noon or 1pm,” said Gersappe. “And don’t forget that hot cocoa and cola count as well.”
5. Get the right sleep environment
Along with quiet, temperature and light are the most important factors in achieving the right sleep environment. Blackout shades will help make sure you room is dark and taking out the TV will remove ambient light, but you also want to lower the temperature.
“We sleep much better in cool environments, so keep your room a few degrees cooler than comfortable and then use blankets,” said Dr. Gersappe.
Finally, if you wake up and you can’t get back to sleep, Dr. Gersappe has a few helpful tips for that too. First, stop watching the clock, it will just give you anxiety and keep you awake. Try leaving the room and reading a book or listening to a soothing podcast (he recommends quantum physics) then return to the bedroom when you feel drowsy.
So whether you want to go high-tech with a smartphone app or low tech with blackout shades and a cool room, these tips and gadgets are designed to help you catch your Z’s and wake up to a healthier, happier tomorrow.
Learn more about Dr. Gersappe on the Swedish Sleep Center website.