What Science Says About Getting Good Sleep
BEIRUT—Research suggests that many people in the Arab region aren’t getting enough sleep. Poor sleep is conclusively linked to several serious health risks, but plenty of proven techniques can improve the quality of sleep. (See a related article, “Sleepless in Beirut: A Health Risk.”)
Keep an eye on caffeine
Limiting caffeine intake is perhaps one of the most documented ways of ensuring a good night’s rest. Many studies show that people who consume moderate to high amounts of caffeinated beverages are more likely to report disturbed and interrupted sleep than those who consume a low level of caffeine or avoid caffeinated beverages altogether.
Additionally, people do not seem to be able to accurately assess whether caffeine is having an impact on their sleep. One study asked research participants if they could feel the effect of caffeine as they went to sleep.
If they had consumed caffeine at bedtime or up to three hours before then it was common for the participants to report that it had an impact on their sleep. But if caffeine had been consumed six hours before going to bed the participants were unlikely to say it had an effect. Data collected by a sleep monitor, however, indicated that the caffeine actually did have a negative effect on their sleep.
So even people who think that they are getting a good night’s sleep regardless of their high caffeine intake may want to be mindful of how much caffeine they’re consuming. The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than four cups of coffee a day.
Set a bed time
Having a routine time to go to sleep is the No. 1 recommendation on the United Kingdom’s National Health Service webpage dedicated to the topic of good sleep.
Studies have shown that somewhere between seven and eight hours sleep per night is optimal for adults. Use this rule of thumb to work backwards from when you need to get up in the morning to figure out when you should go to sleep.
Be strict with yourself when it comes to enforcing it; going to sleep at the same time every day helps to program the brain’s internal body clock to this routine.
Wake up on time
The body’s internal clock needs consistency. Studies have shown that waking up at the same time or a similar time every day improves sleep quality in the long run.
Another study found that people with inconsistent sleep patterns were more prone to stay up late on weekends and subsequently report poor sleep.
A host of studies, including one on adolescents and one on young men and women, show that waking up at different times day to day disrupts the levels of melatonin—the hormone that regulates sleep—in the human body.
Limit alcohol consumption
People often think alcohol helps them to sleep. While it can make people feel tired and fall asleep quicker, studies say alcohol often disturbs sleep later in the night. It blocks the REM (an acronym for “rapid eye movement”) stage of slumber, which is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation in the United States.
There are several theories as to why alcohol does this, according to the foundation, which publishes a peer-reviewed journal on sleep research, but abstaining from alcohol or keeping consumption to a low level could improve the quality of sleep.
Customize the bedroom for sleep
Many studies suggest variables such as noise (including traffic noise), room temperature and light have a negative effect on sleep. In a noisy and lively city, ear plugs could help along with blackout curtains or a sleep mask.
One 2011 research paper measured the influence of these factors and found that 50 percent of participants, who were new parents, reported better sleep after they made efforts to reduce noise and light in their bedrooms at night.
While measures to improve sleep are relatively simple, making the effort to follow them routinely can have a significant positive effect on sleep quality for many people, sleep researchers say.