Cranky, tired and foggy because you can’t get your eight hours of shut-eye due to the aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis? We’re here to help!
By now you know not to exercise right before bedtime, to keep your bedroom nice and dark and the temperature a cool 68 degrees, but if you’re still tossing and turning, a sneakier culprit may be to blame for your restless nights.
Recent research reveals four surprising sleep-stealers that could be thwarting your slumber. Your bedroom might be...
Being kept awake at night by a racket—snoring coming from a mate or pet? Traffic or a neighbor’s loud music? Your room may need to generate some noise of its own!
Easy fix: Fill your bedroom with “white” noise—such as the whir of a fan, a gentle waterfall from a sound machine, soothing music or even a recording of a dull speech.
Why it works: Our brains are designed to sleep best when surrounded by continuous sound. “We tend to be more sensitive to changes in volume and pitch,” explains Tracey I. Marks, MD, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Atlanta. This is why white noise doesn’t disturb your sleep, yet snoring, car horns and other intermittent sounds can keep you up.
Your 1,000-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and pillowcases may be soft as a feather, but if you’re coughing, sneezing or wheezing through the night, they may be to blame. The reason: Your bed could be among the one in four with high levels of dust mites lurking in pillows, mattresses and other bedding. These microscopic insects feed off skin cells you shed and then produce proteins that trigger allergies and asthma, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
Easy fix: Switch to allergen-proof bedding. When scientists from NIEHS, the University of Washington and Harvard University studied how to reduce dust-mite concentrations in people’s beds, they found this simple switch—combined with weekly laundering of sheets and pillowcases in hot water—was most effective.
Why it works: These specially made sheets, pillowcases and mattress covers are made from tightly woven fabric that puts a protective barrier between you and dust mites. They also starve the creatures of skin flakes and water from humidity in the air, which they need to survive.
How many times have you been told to simply “count sheep” when you can’t sleep? Lots, right? Well, a recent study at the University of Oxford reveals that counting sheep (or anything else) can actually keep you awake!
Easy fix: Imagine gentle ocean waves, a trickling stream or another soothing nature scene. Insomniacs who did this fell asleep 20 minutes faster than on nights when they counted sheep or didn’t picture nature images.
Why it works: Counting is just too boring to hold your attention, says lead study author Allison Harvey, PhD. So you end up thinking about your worries, which prompts a cascade of wake-you-up hormones. Instead, nature scenes are so engrossing they distract you from sleep-robbing concerns.
Bothered by frightening or stressful dreams that wake you up? Dirty socks lying on the floor could be the culprit! In a small study at Germany’s University Hospital Mannheim, volunteers who were exposed to the odor of rotten eggs as they slept had more negative dreams, while nearly all who were exposed to the aroma of roses had positive dreams.
Easy fix: It can’t hurt to remove anything from your bedroom that may be giving off a foul smell, such as dirty laundry, a pet bed or musty rug. Then, place a bowl of scented potpourri in your room or spray a scented deodorizer in the air before going to sleep.
Why it work: Scents are processed by your brain and affect your mood whether you’re awake or asleep. As a result, the aromas can change the emotional tone of your dream, says the study’s lead author, Boris Stuck, MD.
More tips to help you snooze better:
Time for a new pillow
Been holding onto your favorite pillow for a year or more? “It may be too old to offer the proper support. That results in neck, shoulder and back pain that keeps you from getting deep sleep,” says James B. Maas, PhD, a sleep researcher at Cornell University and co-author of Sleep for Success! To test your pillow, do the “fold test”: If you fold your pillow in half and it doesn’t spring open right away, it’s time for a replacement.
More detail = better sleep
Folks who picture detailed images—e.g., the foam on waves as they hit the beach or a single leaf floating down a stream—to bring on slumber tend to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer than those who picture general images, say University of Oxford researchers. The more you can focus on relaxing thoughts, the more likely you’ll be able to enjoy quality sleep.
Drift off faster by feeling thankful
People who regularly count their blessings—for instance, the good health of their family or support of their friends—doze off faster, sleep more deeply and have higher energy levels during the day than those who don’t, according to a study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. The link? Thankful thoughts prompt positive feelings, which short-circuit stress, a main culprit behind lousy sleep, the researchers explain.