Written by Eric Pollak

2015 is upon us and our local gyms are filling up as people are beginning to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions. According to a University of Scranton study, losing weight, getting organized, and spending less/saving more were the top three New Year’s resolutions for 2014. These are great goals to focus on, and I encourage everyone to pursue these. However, one important item that is often neglected from New Year’s resolutions is sleep.

Research demonstrates that chronic lack of sleep is linked to numerous health difficulties including colds and flu, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental health issues. Despite these risks, prevalence of sleep problems is at an all-time high. According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll, more than 50% of Americans report at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights per week within the past year. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that approximately 30% of the population at large complains of sleep disturbance, and roughly 10% have symptoms that impair their daytime functioning similar to those that have a diagnosis of insomnia.

A refreshing night of sleep is a great way to start off the year, and can even help you save enough energy to keep working on your other resolutions as well. Therefore, here are three things I will be doing this year to dramatically improve my sleep:

1. Don’t do anything in your bed except for sleep and sex:
It is crucial that while in bed, you avoid doing anything aside from sleep and sexual activity. This includes, but is not limited to, watching TV, eating, studying, texting, reading, or using your phone in any manner. If you are like the many people that partake in any of these activities in your bed, then you are inadvertently training yourself to stay awake. This is because you learn to associate normal sleep cues (bed, bedroom, etc) with activities other than sleep. In order to create a strong connection between your bed and sleep, you must refrain from all other activities. If you stay away from these activities while in bed, you will increase your likelihood of falling and staying asleep at night.

2. Limit the amount of exposure to blue wavelength light one hour before bedtime:
Research at Harvard University and elsewhere has demonstrated that blue wavelength light – which is emitted by computers, cell phones, TV’s, and energy-efficient bulbs (CFLs) – can suppress the secretion of melatonin (a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles) and have a significant negative impact on sleep. So, start powering down a full hour before bedtime and make sure to expose yourself to lots of sunlight throughout the day.

3. Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible:
It is important that your bedroom be very sleep-friendly. When it’s time for bed, make sure that the lights are turned off and that your room is dark. Additionally, attempt to limit surrounding noise (including snoring bed partners), which can cause you to wake or move during sleep, thus impacting your sleep quality. If needed, use an eye mask, black out curtains, or earplugs to reduce light and noise. Furthermore, due to the rise and fall of your body temperature throughout the night, sleep experts suggest that a cool room (60-68 degrees) is optimal for sleep. If this temperature is too cold for you, use blankets to keep yourself warm.

While 75% of Americans are successful at upholding their resolution during the first week in the New Year, this number drops significantly by June. I hope I’ll be successful in keeping to this plan. Here’s to a restful and refreshing year!

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