May is National Sleep Month, and so all month long, we'll be reviewing products and offering tips with the aim of helping you create a zzz-inducing den of zen.
Even if you're guzzling down green juice and exercising on the regular, it won't help your case for health if you're not getting a good night's sleep. "A lot of us aren't sleeping well," says Samantha Heller, registered dietician and author of the forthcoming self-help book The Only Cleanse ($19; available May 26 on amazon.com). The worst part? Lack of sleep not only makes you seem lethargic at your morning meeting, but it can result in serious health consequences -- cancer, diabetes, and dementia among them. Learn how to remedy your sleep habits ASAP by following Heller's seven must-do tips:
1. Eat a lot of protein (and, yes, carbs).
What you eat has a direct effect on your brain, so it's important to load up on proteins during every meal so it can access the amino acids it needs to run smoothly all day long. (Think: beans, tofu, almonds, and yogurt, not steak, beef, pork, and butter.) Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates do not always have a damning effect on your body either. In fact, the glucose in them helps energize our brains and rev up our bloodstream to give it the fuel it needs to sleep better at night.
2. Enjoy a pre-sleep nosh.
Don't sweat the midnight snack. A small, healthy portion of food, like cottage cheese smeared on melba toast or cereal and milk, has been proven to help you sleep, as long as it's ingested 30-40 minutes before bedtime.
3. Turn off the lights.
Make like Nelly Furtado and create an environment to help facilitate sleep—that means powering down your screens, pulling down the blinds, and making sure your AC is powered up. (Fun fact: When your body temp is cooler, it's a signal to your brain to go to sleep.) Even the tiniest bit of LED light, like a smartphone screen, can stimulate the brain and negatively impact the quality of your slumber.
4. Avoid getting drunk at night.
One of life's greatest myths is that alcohol helps you fall asleep, but according to Heller, it's pretty much the opposite. When you've been drinking, you're more likely to wake up after your first or second stage of sleep, which affects your REM sleep that's the most necessary for restoring your body.
5. Jot it down.
If you're a night worrier, with rampant thoughts of the next day's to-do list constantly running laps through your mind, keep a "worry journal" on your nightstand. If you're lying awake at night, anxiety-ridden, write your tasks down on a notepad. Then kick back and relax.
6. Just breathe.
It's been proven that breathing exercises before bed, like the 4-7-8 technique, can help detoxify your lungs for sleep and physically alter the body's ability to rest.
7. Try a sleep aid.
If all else fails, take a small dose of melatonin, like Emergen-Zzzz. For the uninitiated, melatonin is a hormone that the pineal gland in your brain naturally produces every night when it gets dark out. A small amount, 1 to 3 mg, taken only when necessary, can help fortify your body while you sleep.