Each new year people around the world set out to create resolutions for themselves. And many of the same resolutions make the rounds every year—typically ones having to do with health and wellness: exercising more, losing weight, drinking less. Although these goals are all well and good, research has shown that about 23% of people quit their resolution within the week. And, after the challenges of both 2020 and 2021, some are even contending that the New Year’s resolution tradition is becoming passe—insisting it might be time we all give our burnt out selves a break. However, no matter if you are a fan or foe of New Year’s resolutions, one thing is inarguable: many of the most common goals for the New Year, if reached, could contribute to better sleep and that’s not a bad end result. We’ve dug into the most common resolutions people tend to set and explored how each could contribute to better sleep.
According to a Statista survey of 1,500 Americans, the top three most popular resolutions for 2022 are: exercising more, losing weight and saving money. Some of the other top ones included improving diet, cutting back on drinking or smoking, less time on social media, home renovations, pursuing career ambitions and a few others. Our focus for this article is on exercising more, losing weight and cutting back on substances and the ways in which each of these resolutions can support better sleep.
Research has shown (here and here) that getting your body moving during the day has a positive effect on sleep. Exercise spurs the production of growth hormones that help the body repair itself, and people who do it regularly often report waking up feeling more alert and rejuvenated. Additionally, filling your day with activity can help wear your body and mind out so that you are able to more easily fall asleep. Just be sure to schedule your work-outs to end at least four hours before your bedtime, so that your body has time to process the energy before trying to quiet down for the night.
Tips for keeping this resolution:
- Be realistic and specific
- If you don’t exercise much at all, start by setting a goal to walk 15-30 mins a day. If you can keep that up, consider amping up the workout to a jog or commit to more walking time per day. Maybe consider integrating a little bit of weight training into the routine.
- If you are already a regular exerciser, set some goals on how you might punch up your existing routine to challenge yourself a little more. Try a new type of class, increase the amount of reps you do, increase the weights you train with.
Losing Weight/Improving Diet
Research shows that there’s a clear relationship between food and sleep. The less sleep you have, the more (and more unhealthy) you are likely to eat. Conversely, eating the wrong combinations of food prior to bed greatly affects the quality of your sleep. This study reports that adults who only got four hours of sleep registered food smells differently and with more intensity than they did after getting a full eight hours of sleep. It seems that exhaustion increases brain activity in two olfactory brain areas – the piriform cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex. But surprisingly the spike in scent-perception only applied to food smells; non-food odors (like fir trees) didn’t provoke a heightened response.
Simply put, what you eat and when you eat it matters—and the amount of sleep you’re able to get can also impact what and how much you want to eat. While it’s a good idea to stick to a healthy diet overall, what you eat during the four hours leading to bedtime are the most crucial when it comes to sleep quality. You don’t necessarily need to cut out food entirely before bed, though. In fact, going to sleep on an empty stomach can actually keep you up because hunger can have a stimulating effect on the body. Rather, you should be mindful about what types of food you’re eating.
What shouldn’t you eat before bed?
« Most importantly: don’t eat saturated fat and sugar before you try to sleep
« High-fat foods take longer to digest and can keep you up. On the other hand, your body digests sugary foods too rapidly, causing your blood sugar to spike and crash
« If you have any sensitivities or acid reflux, avoid triggers like spicy foods, citrus fruits and dairy—anything likely to cause bloating and indigestion should be avoided at bedtime
What should you eat before bed?
« Unsweetened cereal with milk
« A banana with a dollop of almond butter
« Low-fat cheese on a whole grain cracker
The best nighttime foods combine the amino acid tryptophan with complex carbohydrates. The tryptophan is converted into melatonin (which regulates your circadian rhythm) and serotonin (which aids in relaxing) in your brain. The carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, which helps transport the tryptophan to the brain.
Tips for keeping this resolution:
- Start small and focus on nutrition
- Dieting can get toxic pretty quickly and often when we cut things out abruptly or refuse ourselves a food we love, it doesn’t actually work. Instead of setting strict or punitive rules for yourself and your eating habits, try to approach improving your diet from a perspective of making a concerted effort to learn more about nutrition and implement some of the new information you come across into your daily routines.
Cutting Back On Alcohol
For people who have trouble falling asleep at night, alcohol may seem like an obvious solution. It makes you sleepy, right? While a nighttime glass of wine may help you fall asleep more quickly, alcohol actually has an adverse effect on sleep quality. Since it dehydrates the body, it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night (whether to go to the bathroom or get a glass of water) and keep you from entering into the deepest stages of REM sleep, when your body is doing the most of its revitalizing. Of course, there’s no need to become a full-on teetotaler; just be sure not to indulge too heavily within three hours of bedtime. Being mindful of the reasoning behind your consumption too. Frequent drinking can have larger adverse effects on health and wellness—drinking to avoid sad feelings, for example, can be detrimental to physical and mental health and can exacerbate sleep disorders like insomnia.
Tips for keeping this resolution:
- Set a weekly limit and see how it goes.
- Think about your reasoning for this resolution. Do you worry you have an addiction (if so, consider speaking with a therapist about this or seeking support)? Are you spending too much money on alcohol? Does your body feel better when you don’t drink? Setting a limit is a great place to start.
- If you love a good evening cocktail or don’t want to miss out on social drinking, there are so many mocktails! Consider making a mocktail at home or suggesting bars that serve both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
As you set and potentially stick to resolutions, you might be tempted to track your sleep to see if your lifestyle changes are having a positive impact. Be careful not to allow sleep tracking to inadvertently add to your stress. Instead, maybe only track a few times a night or wait to check until the end of the week. Take the sleep data with a grain of salt and be sure to take into account the way you actually feel in the morning (rested or not) in tandem with the information from the tracker to adjust any habits.
And, no matter what your resolutions are this year and whether or not you choose to set any, we are wishing you a healthy and less stressful 2022 that is filled with high-quality rest.