good night's sleep

  1. Move more, sleep better

    Sometimes, the simplest things are hardest to get -- like a good night's sleep.

    If you're up late burning the midnight oil working a job that requires you to be available around the clock, there's not much I can do for you other than suggest a new line of work.

    But if you go to bed at a reasonable hour each night only to find yourself staring at the ceiling, watching the clock and wondering what's on TV as the minutes turn to hours, there are some simple steps you can take right now to help get to sleep quicker -- and stay asleep longer.

    And it starts with getting more active during the daytime.

    Oregon State University researchers looked at data on more than 2,600 adult men and women in just about every age group -- from 18 to 85 -- who wore accelerometers to measure their daily activities for a week.

    Those who got at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of more intense workouts a week had a 65 percent boost in sleep quality -- and, as a result, they were less likely to report feeling tired during the day.

    Not feeling tired during the day on its own would be a huge improvement for many of us -- especially during those late afternoon doldrums that often lead to one more cup of coffee (or two).

    But the benefits didn't end there -- the people who got more activity were better able to handle being tired: They were 45 percent less likely to report concentration problems once drowsiness set in.

    And once they were in bed, they were 68 percent less likely to experience those annoying leg cramps that can keep you up at night.

    Of course, the study doesn't directly prove that more activity and exercise leads to better sleep -- but it's a connection that's been made before.

    And you don't need to join a gym, lift weights or train for a marathon to get the benefits (which go well beyond better sleep). Everything from gardening to a brisk walk in the park counts as moderate activity -- so find something you enjoy, and stick with it.

    But while more activity might lead to better sleep, don't get your exercise right before bed. In addition to an adrenaline boost that might keep you up at night, exercise can also raise the body temperature -- and while you might prefer a warm bed, the best way to sleep is with a cool body.

    I'm not done with sleep yet -- keep reading for some great natural sleep aids.

  2. The cherry on top of a good night's sleep

    People looking for a little help getting to sleep used to drink a glass of warm milk.

    That, or maybe a little brandy.

    But there's another drink that might help you get off to dreamland quicker -- and it's not what you'd expect.

    It's tart cherry juice -- and a new study finds that just two cups a day can help you sleep an average of 39 minutes longer and get a 6 percent boost in sleep efficiency.

    That's the amount of time you spend in bed actually asleep, instead of wondering when you'll fall asleep.

    Twenty volunteers were given either two cups of tart cherry juice concentrate diluted in water or two cups of ordinary fruit juice every day for a week -- one in the morning, and one at night.

    And along with more time asleep and better sleep efficiency, the cherry juice drinkers had dramatic bumps in melatonin levels. That's the "sleep hormone" that some people take as a supplement -- and apparently, tart cherries will work almost as well.

    On the other hand, it's probably easier -- and cheaper -- for most people to just add a melatonin supplement.

    Whatever you do, make sure a good night's sleep is on your agenda -- because poor sleep has been linked to erectile dysfunction, hypertension, cognitive decline and even an early death.

    Don't look to sleeping pills for help -- they can make matters worse, with some of the most popular meds linked to horrible side effects, including sleepers who get up and engage in bizarre behavior while still actually asleep.

    Go natural instead -- and if cherry juice isn't your cup of tea, try a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium in the evening. This combination can help you get to sleep quicker, and sleep better once you're out.

    In addition, a supplement of valerian root or valerian tea has also been shown to help bring about a good night's sleep -- try it about 30 minutes or so before bedtime.

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