TIME medicine

This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

It’s a favored way to end a hectic day, but a drink before bed can disrupt your sleep

Having a drink before bedtime might make you fall asleep a little faster. But the sleep you get after imbibing may not be so restful, finds a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Building upon earlier research, Christian Nicholas and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne found that alcohol just before sleep can lead to poorer quality slumber.

While most people know from experience that having a drink before hitting the sack can help you feel drowsy, Nicholas and his team were interested in learning how the brain physiologically reacts to the alcohol while you’re sleeping. They had 24 (presumably eager) young adults ages 18 to 21 to spend several nights at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences Sleep Laboratory. On one of the nights, they would be given a nightcap (orange juice and vodka) and on another night, they’d only get a placebo (orange juice with a straw dipped in vodka). They were allowed to go to bed at their normal time, but their heads were dotted with electrodes to measure their sleeping brainwave patterns on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

MORE The More Hours You Work, the More You Drink, Study Says

Not surprisingly, on the nights they drank alcohol, people showed more slow wave sleep patterns, and more so-called delta activity—a process linked to the restorative aspects of deeper sleep, when memories are firmed up, the brain’s detritus is cleared out and hard-working neurons get some much-needed replenishment.

But that wasn’t the only thing going on in their brains. At the same time, alpha wave patterns were also heightened, which doesn’t happen during normal sleep. Alpha activity tends to occur when the brain is awake but quietly resting, in metabolic break mode. Having both delta and alpha activity together therefore leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in.

MORE Alcohol Poisoning Kills 6 Americans a Day

In fact, such dual activity patterns are typically seen among people with chronic pain conditions and in lab-based studies where people are intentionally given electric shocks while they slept. “People tend to feel that alcohol helps them fall asleep a little quicker, and therefore people associated that with helping them sleep,” says Nicholas. “But when you actually go and look at what is happening while they sleep, the quality of that sleep isn’t good.”

In previous studies, such warring alpha-delta brain patterns during sleep have been linked to daytime drowsiness, waking up not feeling rested, and symptoms like headaches and irritability. Whether similar outcomes occur among people who drink before bed isn’t clear yet, says co-author Julia Chan, but it’s reasonable to think that they might. “When you see alpha activity alongside delta activity during sleep, it suggests there might be some kind of wakefulness influence that could compete with the restorative nature of delta sleep,” she says.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid alcohol at night all the time; occasionally indulging in a nightcap probably won’t disrupt your sleep too much. But, “if somebody is doing this night after night after night, the effects can be cumulative, not only for alcohol use but on sleep disruption as well,” says Nicholas.

Read next: School Should Start Later So Teens Can Sleep, Doctors Urge

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TIME health

4 Reasons You’re Not Sleeping and What You Can Do About Them

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From buzzing phones to blinking lights, here are the real reasons you're not getting enough shut-eye

Most healthy-living formulas consist of two basic tenets: Eat less and move more. Truthfully, it should be more of a three-pronged approach: Eat well, move more, and get adequate sleep. The first two steps are made more effective by the third—and when you don’t have enough sleep, food and movement aren’t enough to keep your body feeling well and performing at its optimal level.

Unfortunately, getting good sleep is a struggle many of us face, and it’s not entirely a modern dilemma. Yes, blinking cell phones, bright alarm clocks, and dinging computers are relatively new in human history and may make the bedroom less relaxing and more taxing, but other factors can interfere with your sleep pattern, too. This month, get serious about getting more shut-eye. Here are some real solutions to the most common sleep obstacles.

1. Lights

“Light at night can delay your circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural clock,” says Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The color of the light may make the biggest difference. Evidence suggests our bodies are most sensitive to blue light, which is emitted from many popular light sources, including energy-efficient bulbs and computer screens.

The fix: Turn down your lights an hour or so before bed. Hang blackout curtains or wear a sleep mask if light shines continuously.

2. Technology

You’ve probably heard that your tablet, smartphone, and other small-screen devices could be responsible for bouts of insomnia—the lights they emit are mostly on the brain-activating blue wavelength. Still, the National Sleep Foundation says more than 95% of Americans use some type of tech gadget within an hour before going to bed. The more time you spend on the devices, the more wired your brain will be, and the more wired your brain is, the less sleep you’re likely to get.

The fix: Check Facebook one last time at least an hour before you tuck in. Then turn off your device and give it a rest until morning. “You can also download programs like f.lux (justgetflux.com) that can change the spectrum of your computer screen to reduce the blue light,” says Baron.

3. Temperature

The body’s core temperature decreases as we sleep. If it’s too warm in your bedroom, your body can’t cool properly, and people with a higher core body temperature are more likely to experience insomnia and sleeplessness.

The fix: The ideal bedroom temperature, says Baron, is around 65°. As a bonus, a colder bedroom may boost your metabolism. A recent study in Diabetes found that people who sleep in cool rooms–66°–have increased metabolism and energy expenditure even in their waking hours.

4. Stress

Unfortunately, anxiety can create a cycle of sleeplessness: It makes sleep more difficult, and sleeplessness drives up anxiety. “Worry and rumination interfere with the ability to relax and go to sleep, and then stress can cause middle-of-the-night awakenings and waking up too early,” says Baron.

The fix: Here’s a throwback relaxation technique that’s worth a try: lullabies. A study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that people who listened to soothing music for 45 minutes before their bedtime spent more time in restorative REM sleep. And if you still can’t sleep, don’t wallow in your sheets. “Get out of bed until you feel sleepy,” says Baron. “While you’re out of bed, do something fairly nonstimulating, like reading a book. Wait until you’re sleepy; then get back in bed.”

Is 8 Hours Really Necessary?

Most likely it is. “Researchers amazingly still don’t know how much sleep is enough,” says Baron. “But studies consistently show that less than five hours per night is associated with negative health effects, and it looks like six to eight hours is associated with the best outcomes.”

But what about people who swear they don’t need more than five hours of sleep a night? “They may be using caffeine and other techniques to stay awake during the day. They really could use the sleep and are just masking it,” says Baron. “People never get accustomed to sleep loss, but they do become less aware of how impaired they are, even if performance continues to decline.”

This article originally appeared on CookingLight.com.

TIME Children and Families

Let Your Kids Sleep More For Better Grades

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Slumber particularly helps with math, says a new study.

Sorry, parents, but you might need to start enforcing bedtime. Or letting your kids sleep in.

While no one likes a bedtime battle, a new study shows that a good night’s sleep can translate to improved academic performance. Researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal found that children who had a better quality sleep performed better in math and languages.

Specifically researchers found a link between academic performance and something called sleep efficiency, which is more or less how well you sleep at night. “Sleep efficiency is the proportion of the amount of time you slept to the amount of time you were in bed,” says clinical psychologist Reut Gruber, lead author of the study. “Simply put, you go to bed, you lie down and spend time in bed, but if you’re not able to sleep through the time in bed, that’s not efficient sleep.”

“Short or poor sleep is a significant risk factor for poor academic performance that is frequently ignored,” says Gruber, and while there are other studies out there that linked sleep and academic performance, she wanted to take a slightly different tack. “I wanted to look at specific subject areas, not to lump them together, knowing that different skills are needed for different subjects.”

When it comes to math and language skills specifically, Gruber says, it’s a question of brain anatomy. “For math and languages, we need to use the skills that are called ‘executive functions’—things like working memory, planning, not being distracted. The hardware that supports those skills is in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is very sensitive to the effects of poor sleep or insufficient sleep.”

So Gruber’s team looked 75 healthy children between the ages of 7 and 11. The children were each given a wristwatch-like device called an “actigraph” that is used to evaluate sleep by monitoring their night time activity, averaged the data over five nights and correlated the data with the kids’ report-card grades.

They then controlled for variables already known to be associated with academic performance—socio-economic status of the parents and the age of the child and used the sleep variables to predict the report cards grades. “Math, English, French, each one separately,” said Gruber. “Then we looked at how much variability in the specific grade or subject was explained by the sleep variables after controlling for the other what we call ‘confounders.’”

What they found was a “significant” performance variable in math and languages that was related to a good night’s sleep. Especially math. “We found that 14% of the variability we found in math …was explained by sleep deficiency,” said Gruber. “It was 7% and 8% for English and French.”

While parents are on the hook for enforcing bedtime, Gruber thinks pediatricians should ask about the quality and quantity of sleep during routine checkups. “I think many kids might have some sleep issues that nobody is aware of,” she says. “Regular screening for possible sleep issues is particularly important for students who exhibit difficulties in math, languages or reading.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children ages five to 12 get 10-11 hours of sleep a night. (Teenagers need about 9 hours, but studies suggest only 15% of them get it.) If your child currently clocks in less than that, it might be time for a bed time reevaluation. In previous studies, Gruber and her team looked at sleep extension—adding hours to sleep time—and while they didn’t look at math, they did study behavior and attention and saw an improvement in both areas.

To develop healthy sleep habits, the National Sleep Foundation suggest parents establish a consistent bedtime routine, emphasize the need for a regular sleep schedule, keep television and computers out of bedrooms and teach children about healthy sleep habits.

TIME medicine

Why Working at Night Boosts the Risk of Early Death

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Nurses working more night shifts were at higher risk of dying early Image Source—Getty Images

Working while the rest of the world is sleeping may increase your risk of cancer and heart disease

Sleep isn’t just a time to rest and give your body and brain a break. It’s a critical biological function that restores and replenishes important body systems. Now, yet another study on shift workers shows that their unusual hours may be cutting their lives short—and that’s especially true for those who have rotating night shifts, rather than permanent graveyard duty.

In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, scientists led by Dr. Eva Schernhammer, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, studied 74,862 nurses enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study since 1976. The nurses were an ideal group for studying the effects of rotating night shifts on the body, since RNs tend to have changing night shift obligations over an average month rather than set schedules.

MORE: The Power of Sleep

After 22 years, researchers found that the women who worked on rotating night shifts for more than five years were up to 11% more likely to have died early compared to those who never worked these shifts. In fact, those working for more than 15 years on rotating night shifts had a 38% higher risk of dying from heart disease than nurses who only worked during the day. Surprisingly, rotating night shifts were also linked to a 25% higher risk of dying from lung cancer and 33% greater risk of colon cancer death. The increased risk of lung cancer could be attributed to a higher rate of smoking among night shift workers, says Schernhammer.

The population of nurses with the longest rotating night shifts also shared risk factors that endangered their health: they were heavier on average than their day-working counterparts, more likely to smoke and have high blood pressure, and more likely to have diabetes and elevated cholesterol. But the connection between more rotating night shift hours and higher death rates remained strong after the scientists adjusted for them.

MORE: Why You Shouldn’t Read a Tablet Before Bed

The data support the idea that changing the body’s natural rhythms by being active at night and asleep during the day may have harmful consequences, especially if you shift this rhythm inconsistently. “It’s sort of like flying between London and New York every three days — constant jet lag,” says Schernhammer. “However, if you fly from London to New York and stay in New York, then jet lag would subside after a few days, and that’s what we assume happens in permanent night workers.”

Why does the body react when sleep cycles change? Previous studies showed that too little sleep or the kind that’s disrupted can alter melatonin levels so that the body never powers down and slips into restorative mode, a time when much-needed repairs are made to cells and tissues and supplies of nutrients are replenished to the body. Without this period of rest, important processes such as inflammation, fat and sugar metabolism and immune functions get out of balance, creating fertile ground for heart disease or cancer. The growing number of studies connecting shift work with unhealthy outcomes led the World Health Organization to classify shift work as a probable carcinogen in 2007.

MORE: These 6 Things Will Bring You a Great Night’s Sleep

Schernhammer and her colleagues show that the categorization may have merit, but not everyone can avoid night shift work. Researchers are studying how these people might counteract some of the effects of their unusual work hours, but none of these strategies, including light lamps and sleep aids, has so far been proven to help. In the meantime, she says that shift workers concerned about their risk should do everything they can to lower their risk of heart and cancer risk in other ways — by quitting smoking, getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet and getting regular cancer screenings. “Hopefully in the near future we can also recommend additional measures that alleviate some of the strain that night work imposes on the circadian system,” she says, “by matching their shift schedules, to the extent possible, with their inherent sleep preferences — whether they are night owls or morning types.”

TIME psychology

These 5 Things Will Make You Smarter

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Get rid of the distractions

You can’t multitask.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.

All those buzzing text messages and email chimes can reduce mental ability by an average of 10 IQ points. For men, it’s about three times the effect of smoking marijuana.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common “productivity tools” can make one as dumb as a stoner… when people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old.

2) Get your sleep

If you’ve missed sleep, you’ve reduced your intelligence.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

Think you’re just fine cheating yourself on sleep? Of course you do. But you’re wrong.

…after just a few days, the four and six-hour group reported that, yes, they were slightly sleepy. But they insisted they had adjusted to their new state. Even 14 days into the study, they said sleepiness was not affecting them. In fact, their performance had tanked. In other words, the sleep-deprived among us are lousy judges of our own sleep needs. We are not nearly as sharp as we think we are.

What if you can’t get a good night’s sleep but need to learn new info? Even naps can help:

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance, even when the nap didn’t lead to an increase in alertness or the ability to pay more attention to a boring task. Researchers at the City University of New York, meanwhile, found that naps helped the brain better assess and make connections between objects.

3) Performance enhancing drugs for your brain

No, they’re not anabolic steroids. It’s caffeine, sugar and nicotine. Coffee and nicotine make you smarter.

Via Brain Candy: Science, Paradoxes, Puzzles, Logic, and Illogic to Nourish Your Neurons:

Studies show that caffeine increases the speed at which we process sensory information. And with luscious caffeine jouncing happily through our system, we make faster decisions based on these stimuli. In other words, we see faster and we act faster.

Cigarettes make us smarter too. Or at least their nicotine component does: It’s been shown to boost short-term working memory and executive function. Nicotine patches have also been shown to combat some of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Don’t like coffee? Studies show Red Bull can do the trick. A donut can help too. Or do a bit of exercise and have a sugary drink.

Via Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain by the excellent Vaughan Bell:

Increasing glucose and oxygen supplies to the brain seems to allow information to be more accurately and fully committed to memory – in other words, you learn better… light exercise or even deliberately increasing breathing rate by a small amount will increase blood oxygen levels… A well-timed sugary drink, thirty minutes to an hour before you have to remember or take notice of something particularly well should improve how well you remember it.

4) Keep Learning

You always hear that doing puzzles can help stave off dementia. In reality, those aren’t nearly enough to keep your brain sharp. But the principle holds.

Want to keep your mind powerful? Do something that really forces you to stretch yourself:

5) Believe in yourself

Want to be smarter? The first step is to believe that you can become smarter:

Those students who learned about IQ’s malleability improved their grades more than did students who did not receive this message, and also saw academics as more important than did students in the control group.

Surround yourself with people who believe in you and you’ll perform better:

Via The Heart of Social Psychology: A Backstage View of a Passionate Science:

…Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) did the same study in a classroom, telling elementary school teachers that they had certain students in their class who were “academic spurters.” In fact, these students were selected at random. Absolutely nothing else was done by the researchers to single out these children. Yet by the end of the school year, 30 percent of the the children arbitrarily named as spurters had gained an average of 22 IQ points, and almost all had gained at least 10 IQ points.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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TIME psychology

These 6 Things Will Bring You a Great Night’s Sleep

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Your Worst Enemy Is Probably You

Stop cheating yourself. You can’t cut corners on sleep and not have it affect you:

…by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy.

Via NurtureShock:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine. In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

“Sleeping on it” does improve decision making and can help you follow through on your goals.

Lack of sleep makes you more likely to get sick and more likely to behave unethically. There is such a thing as beauty sleep:

Our findings show that sleep deprived people appear less healthy, less attractive, and more tired compared with when they are well rested.

Lack of sleep makes you dumber.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

Yes, some people don’t need much sleep but they’re exceedingly rare. Out of 100 people who think they can go without much sleep, only five really can.

So What Makes For A Great Night’s Sleep?

1) Exercise during the day promotes good sleep at night.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.

…those who exercised reported a better quality of sleep than those who remained sedentary.

2) Keep it cold.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.

One study by researchers in Lille, a city in northeastern France, found that subjects fell asleep faster and had a better overall quality of sleep following behaviors that cooled the body, such as taking a cold shower right before bed. The best predictor of quality sleep was maintaining a room temperature in a narrow band between 60 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit (or 16 to 19 degrees Celsius).

3) Avoid light before bed, and that includes TV’s and computers.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.

…bright lights— including the blue-and-white light that comes from a computer monitor or a television screen— can deceive the brain, which registers it as daylight. Lying in bed watching a movie on an iPad may be relaxing, but the constant bright light from the screen can make it more difficult for some people to fall asleep afterward.

4) Avoid coffee or alcohol at night.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.

It is obviously not a good idea to drink coffee in the evening if it keeps you up at night. Nor is drinking alcohol before bedtime a smart move. Alcohol may help speed the onset of sleep, but it begins to take its toll during the second half of the night. As the body breaks down the liquid, the alcohol in the bloodstream often leads to an increase in the number of times a person briefly wakes up.

Also:

5) Mattress quality doesn’t matter. The only factor that was relevant with regard to beds was when traveling, people sleep best on a mattress similar to the one they have at home.

6) Keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule is more important than you think. Shifting Daylight Savings Time around lowers SAT scores. Jet lag can be devastating to performing at your best.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Food & Drink

This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

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Sorry to burst your champagne bubble, but drinking more alcohol often adds up to less sleep

You may want to think twice before pouring that nightcap—it turns out alcohol could be wreaking major havoc on your sleep. Even though it’s the season for spiked hot cocoa, extra glasses of wine, and alcohol-fueled holiday parties, climbing into bed after downing all those drinks can leave you feeling less than jolly the next morning.

Alcohol wakes you up at night.

While knocking back a glass or two might help you fall asleep faster, going to bed with a buzz may also lead to a worse night’s sleep. Scientists reviewed 20 different studies and concluded that the tradeoff to dozing off after consuming alcohol is waking up more easily later on in the night.

It cuts into your REM sleep.

REM sleep is essential to a good night’s rest. It has a long list of benefits, including daytime alertness, improved learning, and better long-term memory, as well as allowing us to process our emotions, saysDr. Philip Gehrman, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. The problem with alcohol is that it has a significant impact on REM sleep, which can hurt long-term memory and make us more irritable. “Basically, alcohol is a REM suppressant,” saysGehrman. “The more we drink, the less REM we get.”

Too many drinks can trigger heartburn.

And that uncomfortable burning sensation wake us up or keep us awake in the first place. Alcohol has been known to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle between your stomach and esophagus that’s supposed to be closed except for when you’re swallowing food. However, when you throw too many drinks into the mix, the muscle can relax and stay open for too long, causing stomach acid to come back up, which results in a burning feeling. Unfortunately, caffeine can have a similar effect, so if eliminating alcohol doesn’t decrease your heartburn, you may want to cut back on that too.

It sends you to the bathroom.

While “breaking the seal” may be a total myth, alcohol’s effect on the bladder is a real one. The fact is that consuming alcohol, a diuretic, can make you go more. Our bodies generally produce less urine at night than throughout the day, allowing us to sleep about six to eight hours without needing to visit the bathroom. However, drinking alcohol before bed can cause us to wake up in the middle of the night with the urge to go, disrupting our sleep cycle.

Alcohol and sleeping aids absolutely do not mix.

Whether you’re taking a prescription or leaning on other sleep aids, mixing them with alcohol can be harmful and sometimes downright dangerous. Both alcohol and most sleep medications target the neurotransmitter GABA, which calms our nervous activity. Because many sleep aids and alcohol target the same neural system, drinking too much can turn into a deadly combination, inhibiting parts of the brain that are necessary for survival like breathing and heart beating, Gehrman says. While many new sleep medications may not have as large of a risk, the safest bet is to never mix any kind of sleep aid with alcohol.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Sex/Relationships

10 Ways To Sleep Better With Your Partner

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Learning to share a bed with a snorer, sheet hogger, or kicker can save your sanity—and your relationship

A good night’s rest can be hard enough to get on your own. Add in the challenge of sleeping with a partner who snores, hogs the covers, or can only nod off to the sound of the nightly news—or has issues with your sleep patterns and needs—and it’s no wonder so many partners are sleep-deprived. In fact, about 25% of American couples retreat to separate sleeping quarters, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That can be an effective solution for some spouses, but it can also take a toll on your bond and intimacy, says Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan. If his and hers beds don’t appeal to you, you’ve still got options. Read on for easy, expert-backed ways to navigate your different sleep styles and score the snoozetime you both deserve.

Your partner’s snoring leaves you staring at the ceiling

About 37 million adults snore regularly, according to the National Sleep Foundation, resulting in poor snooze quality for their bedmates and themselves. Men are more likely to saw away, and snoring tends to worsen with age. “The sound comes from vibrations made as you breathe through narrowed airways while sleeping,” says Breus. Congestion is often a trigger; so is drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Even sleeping on your back can be to blame, which is why nonsnoring partners often roll (or push!) the snorer over to get some peace and quiet. If addressing these issues doesn’t help, have your partner check in with a sleep doctor. Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious but treatable condition that causes breathing to stop several times per night. In the meantime, Breus suggests the snore-free partner drown out the buzz by surrounding their ears with a wall of pillows. “The sound will bounce back in the other direction, reducing the noise enough so you’re more likely to drift off,” he says.

You can’t agree on room temperature

The optimum temperature for sleep ranges from 68 to 72 degrees fahrenheit, says Breus. But that won’t persuade a partner who craves a toasty-warm bedroom to stop secretly hiking the thermostat, nor will it stop a chill-loving spouse from throwing open the window. Call a compromise: Pick a temperature between your two preferences. The person who likes it warmer has the option of putting on another blanket or thicker pajamas, while the cold-preferring partner can sleep outside the sheets or duvet, suggests Breus. Upgrading to a bigger bed might also help. “A larger bed means more room, so the person who wants it cooler isn’t as affected by the other’s body heat,” says Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and sleep specialist in New York City and author of The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby and You.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons You’re Not Having Sex

Your kids keep interrupting your zzz’s

When spouses don’t agree on how to handle a child who has had a bad dream or has a potty emergency, conflict can ensue—not to mention next-day exhaustion. “Sometimes only one parent ends up taking care of the child’s needs, and that can build resentment,” says Kennedy. “Or one partner is fine with the child coming into their bed for the rest of the night, while the other parent wants the bedroom off-limits.” Kennedy suggests reaching a solution outside of the bedroom, when you and your partner are rested and thinking rationally. “You need to be on the same page about how to handle this situation, so you set boundaries for your kids but also share the responsibility of a middle-of-the-night interruption,” she advises. Otherwise, not only will you both be sleep-deprived, the conflict can potentially shake up your bond.

You have different mattress preferences

Some people love a soft, sink-into-it bed; others require bedding as firm as a board before they can start counting sheep. Luckily, mattress manufacturers have caught on to this, and options that address both preferences exist. “The Sleep Number Bed is popular because you can make one side firmer and the other softer, so spouses don’t have to resort to separate beds,” says Breus. Memory foam mattresses are also couple-friendly because they mold to your weight and body size without affecting the partner lying alongside. You could also look into a split-king bed that features a king-size frame with two side-by-side separate mattresses. These beds can be pricey, but think of it as an investment in your health and relationship, not just another piece of furniture.

HEALTH.COM: Best and Worst Foods for Sleep

You go to bed or wake up at different times

This one’s tricky: we all have an internal clock that generally determines what time we turn in for the night and wake up in the morning. Yet it’s almost impossible to change your personal pattern, says Breus. Make a deal: the later-to-bed partner promises to be extra quiet and not do anything in the bedroom that can cause the other to wake, then in the morning, the early riser promises to do the same for the partner sleeping in. “If you need to rise first, offer to not hit the snooze button too often, so it goes off a bunch of times and disturbs the other person,” says Kennedy. Similarly, night owls should use headphones to listen to music or watch TV while the other spouse is snoozing, advises Breus. Schedule time in bed to be intimate or to talk at a neutral time, like early in the evening or later in the morning, so one partner isn’t wired while the other is too tired.

You like it dark; your partner needs light

Preferring a dark bedroom makes sense; darkness is a cue to your brain to ramp up production of the hormone melatonin, which helps your body wind down, says Breus. Thing is, some people are conditioned to sleep with a light on. If you and your partner are in opposing camps, compromise by agreeing to keep a very small low-wattage lamp or nightlight plugged in, or use a clip-on booklight that can be directed away from the other partner, says Breus. And eye masks look silly, but don’t discount them—they can be surprisingly good at blocking out light. Breus also recommends a new type of lightbulb for your bedside lamp. Goodnight Bulbs use a special bulb that cuts down on blue light, the kind emitted from TV screens and smartphones that has been implicated in insomnia. Without that blue light, it’s easier for the darkness-wanting spouse to doze off.

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You’re a cuddler, but your partner craves space

Even the closest couples can have different pre-sleep intimacy preferences. “One partner might like snuggling before bed and falling asleep in the other’s arms, while the other feels crowded and can’t relax unless he or she turns away,” says Kennedy. While that might feel like rejection or a reflection that you two aren’t as connected as you thought, Kennedy cautions against viewing it that way. “It’s just a difference in sleep styles,” she says. Here’s a fair middle ground: “Agree to cuddle until the snuggler drifts off, at which point the other person can retreat to their side of the bed and sleep solo for the rest of the night,” she says. Or have a distinct 10 to 15 minute snuggle time, during which you two can touch and talk, and then officially move to opposite sides of the bed once the time has passed. You both have your intimacy needs meet and can easily drift off to dreamland.

He needs the TV to fall asleep; you like quiet

If one of you is conditioned to fall asleep to Jimmy Kimmel’s voice on late-night TV while the other needs silence, you might need to look into headphones, especially the wireless kind. A timer is also a good idea; agree to set it for 15 or 30 minutes, by which time the TV watcher will have sacked out anyway, says Breus. If the noise can’t be totally shut out, agree to keep the TV volume low, then bring a fan into the bedroom next to your side and keep it on all night. It’s a simple white-noise infusion that can drown out the voices on the tube. If you’re out of options, foam earplugs you can buy in a drugstore can be surprisingly effective.

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You’re battling a blanket hog

Ever wake up in the middle of a sleep session to find yourself shivering because the comforter you had cocooned yourself in hours ago is now encased around your partner like a burrito? Sounds like you’re sleeping with a blanket hog—though it’s not necessarily a deliberate move on your bedmate’s part. If the tug of war over covers happens regularly, it’s no surprise you’re fatigued, says Breus. The solution is to have his and hers covers: one top sheet, blanket and/or comforter for you, and another stack for him. It’s harder for one partner to steal the covers from the other if you each have your own layers.

One partner tosses, turns, and thrashes all night

Everyone changes position at least a few times as they cycle through a night of sleep. But women tend to be more sensitive to their partner’s movements, and that means they’re more likely to be woken up by the kicking, jostles, or twitchy motions of a restless sleeper, says Breus. Layering up in separate blankets can help minimize the disruption, since his or her legs and arms will be wrapped under a different comforter and sheet set. Or consider a foam mattress like a Tempur-Pedic—the lack of springs cuts down on excessive bounce and motion, says Kennedy. A larger bed also allows you to maintain an arm’s length of distance, so the other person can thrash all over the place and not make contact with you.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

5 Tricks for the Best Nap Ever

Businessman asleep on his office desk
Getty Images

When it's noon, it's naptime

Naps used to get a bad rap, conjuring up all sorts of unfortunate—and unfair—images of slackers, rambunctious kindergarteners in need of time outs, and AARP members looking to rest their weary bones.

Not anymore. A 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that 40% of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night; what’s more 43% admitted they’d feel better if they got more sleep. So it makes sense that we’d try to catch some extra zzz’s whenever (and sometimes wherever) we can.

And more and more people are doing just that. Companies like Google, Ben & Jerry’s and Proctor and Gamble encourage employees to take nap breaks. The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is one of several colleges to set up rooms for napping. (Located in the school’s library, UM’s nap station is equipped with vinyl cots, disposable pillowcases, and a 30-minute time limit.) And Barclays PLC, a global financial group, got some unwanted publicity last year, when the Wall Street Journal revealed that exhausted interns were slipping into stalls to take “toilet naps,” using their phones as an alarm. And then there’s Google Naps, a parody of Google Maps, which can tell you the best places in your city to catch a few winks—from libraries to park benches.

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Before you Type A’s get all judgy, know this: Feeling sleepy before bedtime is completely normal. Our body’s internal biological clock (otherwise known as circadian rhythm), which regulates our physical, mental, and emotional changes 24/7, also controls our wakefulness. According to research from Harvard Medical School, we usually feel alert during the day then gradually become sleepy as we move toward evening. But some of us experience a bout of mid-afternoon drowsiness, and a quick snooze can be just the ticket for handling that fuzzy feeling.

What’s more, studies show that there is a virtual laundry list of benefits to be had from nabbing some shut-eye (hey, they don’t call it a power nap for nothing). Among them: A nap can boost brain power, make you more alert, and improve your memory. Oh, it can also help your waistline: lack of sleep can trigger hunger and could lead to overeating.

And now that the weather’s turned ridiculously cold (in the some parts of the country, anyway), can you think of a better time to indulge in a little cozy midday shut-eye? Here’s how to get the most from hibernating:

Find the middle ground

As with many things in life, timing is everything. “Basically, the best time for a nap is as close to the middle of the day as possible,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, psychiatry instructor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Before lunch is too early,” says Grander. “Lie down too late in the day and it will interfere with your nighttime sleep. Now it’s getting darker earlier and daylight has shifted, so probably not before noon and not after 3:00.”

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Keep it brief

Telling yourself, “I’ll lay down for however long I sleep” is not a great idea. You need figure out a set length of time for your nap and set the alarm. Ideally, a power nap should be 20 to 30 minutes. “You can go to 60 minutes, though once you go beyond 30 minutes, you get diminishing returns as far as improving brain function and reaping other benefits from your nap,” says Grandner. Plus, he says, if you extend your nap past 60 minutes, you’ll enter into a deeper (or slow-wave) stage of sleep and might wake up feeling groggy—which could affect how the rest of your day goes.

Sack out on the sofa

Your bed signals to your body that you’re nodding off for the night and can put you in a nighttime sleep mode. What you’re looking for, says Grandner, is a place that’s comfy, but not too comfy. The couch is your friend.

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Keep it quiet

Be protective of your sleep space, says Grandner. You’re looking for a place that’s as quiet as possible (consider a white noise machine or ear plugs to drown out any noise). It should be dark enough to close your eyes, but not pitch dark. “You don’t want to confuse your brain into thinking you’re retiring for the night,” says Grandner. The temperature shouldn’t be too hot or cold—slightly cool is ideal for maximum comfort. (If you’re too hot or too cold, your body has to regulate its temperature, which might make it hard to relax.)

Coordinate the caffeine

It might seem counter-intuitive, but a 2003 Japanese study found that downing a cup of Joe right before settling down can contribute to a restful nap. Here’s why: Caffeine doesn’t kick in until about 20 to 30 minutes after it’s ingested. So you’ll wake up just as the coffee is taking effect—and feel wonderfully refreshed.

Simply resting can help, too

Looking for a doze at work? Grandner assures that rest, even without sleep, can be beneficial. Just relax, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and you’ll perk back up in 20 to 30 minutes. In fact, we may have found just the thing to help you wind down during your 9-to-5: Meet the Nutshell sleep pod, a wearable sack of blissful solitude, designed by a resourceful student at the New York School of Visual Arts. It’s just a prototype right now, but fingers crossed. (Hey, it beats hanging out in a restroom stall, right?)

HEALTH.COM: 7 Tips for the Best Sleep Ever

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME

You Asked: Is Sleeping In a Cold Room Better For You?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Here's the sweetest spot on the thermostat

Ask any insomniac about the perils of a hot pillow: When you’re trying to sleep, your brain loves the cold. Wearing a cooling cap helped insomniacs snooze almost as well as people without sleep problems, found a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and there’s also some evidence that yawning helps your brain offload heat before bedtime.

In fact, there’s lots of evidence for the cooler camp. A drop in your core temperature triggers your body’s “let’s hit the sack” systems, shows research from the Center for Chronobiology in Switzerland (and a lot of other places.) Some new research from the National Institutes of Health also suggests that sleeping in a cool room could have some calorie-burning health benefits. Healthy men who spent a month sleeping in a cool (but not cold) 66-degree room increased their stores of metabolically active brown fat, says Dr. Francesco Celi, chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s division of endocrinology and metabolism. “Brown fat” may not sound very desirable, but it actually helps your body burn calories and dispose of excess blood sugar, he explains.

“We found that even a small reduction in bedroom temperature affects metabolism,” Celi says.

So if you want a healthy night’s sleep, crank down the thermostat, right? Unfortunately, it may not be that simple—when it comes to all of your below-the-neck parts, things aren’t so straightforward.

In Celi’s brown fat experiment, the men slept under thin sheets. What if you’re the type who likes a cozy down comforter? “Sorry, that won’t work,” Celi says, adding that some evidence points to shivering as the mechanism that brings on the increase in brown fat his team observed. His experiment didn’t keep tabs on sleep quality. So while the cold may be good for your metabolism and brown fat stores, you may be paying for those benefits with a night of fitful sleep.

That possibility is supported by research from Dr. Eus van Someren and colleagues at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. While a dip in core temperature before bedtime flips on your brain and body’s “time for bed” switches and helps you fall asleep, Someren’s research shows that keeping your skin temperature “perfectly comfortable” is important when it comes to maintaining deep, restful slumber.

Your level of “perfect comfort” is quite individual. But if you’re cold enough to be shivering, you’re not sleeping deeply, Someren says. His research shows that older adults in particular may benefit from warmer skin temperatures during sleep. In fact, both his work and more research from France suggest skin temps in the range of 90 degrees (!) may be optimal.

If that sounds nuts to you, consider the fact that thin pajamas, plus a sheet and blanket, could crank up your skin temperature to that 90-degree range—even if your room of slumber is only 65 degrees, Someren says. On the other hand, if your bedroom is too chilly or your blankets aren’t thick enough, blood vessels in your skin can narrow, locking in heat and upping your core temperature to a point that your sleep is disturbed, he explains.

Add in a sleeping partner, and things get even more complex; while you may yearn for a heavy down comforter, your spouse might prefer a thin sheet. “Temperature regulation is a tricky thing,” Someren says.

That’s a lot of bedroom science, but here’s the bottom line: keeping your head nice and cool is conducive to good sleep. To achieve that, set your thermostat somewhere around 65 degrees, research suggests. And layer up until you feel the Sandman creep closer.

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