Wellness is all the rage these days and staying well requires, among other things, a good night’s sleep, preferably every night. In pursuit of that goal, aggressive wellness seekers are shelling out big bucks for “sleep vacations.”
It may sound like the sleepaway camps of our youth but these fashionable if drowsy retreats bear little similarity to sleeping under the stars. Instead, clients are more likely to be snoozing away in a Swiss Alps retreat that goes for $13,000 for five days or a New York City retreat that will set you back $3,000 a night.
At Miraval Resorts in Tucson, Austin and Lenox, Mass., there are massages, workshops, rituals and guided meditation. Kamalaya Koh Samui in Thailand “embraces the concepts of Taoism” to lull you to sleep while Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland offers guests “an array of sleep tests” to help identify dozing issues.
The prices for many of these retreats would be enough to keep most people awake but fortunately there are other ways you can work towards getting the 7-9 hours of nightly slumber that is the recommended minimum. And you don’t have to travel anywhere to do it. We might call it a “sleep staycation” and it can take place in your very own bedroom.
Some assembly required
The most essential element in sleeping soundly is a good mattress – you know, one that’s firm but not too firm – and the right pillows and linens. If you’ve been finding sleep elusive, it may be time for an upgrade. There are times when it’s worth spending a little extra to get the best quality and this is one of them. Plan to spend at least $1,000 for a good mattress, more for a larger size. See our recent article on mattress shopping for details.
Next is your bedroom. This is the time to think minimalist. Your bedroom should be free of clutter and distractions – no laundry waiting to be folded or week-old stacks of mail. And ideally, no phone, computer or television. Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for squeezing in another 30 minutes of email. A book or e-reader (not a tablet) may be OK if it helps you wind down and drift away.
It goes without saying that your bedroom should be quiet and dark. Heavy curtains help block both noise and sunlight but if more help is needed consider ear plugs and sleeping masks.
Go easy on the drugs
Melatonin has a reputation for producing peaceful sleep and pleasant dreams with few side effects, although research is somewhat sparse. There is a growing body of evidence that it may be helpful in some cases, particularly those involving older adults, and there don’t seem to be any side effects other than, you know, drowsiness.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently conducted a study in 24 healthy older adults to find out whether a higher dose was more effective than a lower one. They found that the higher dose had a significant impact, increasing total sleep time compared to a placebo by more than 15 minutes for nighttime sleep and by half an hour for daytime sleep. Results are published in The Journal of Pineal Research.
CBD is another one of those darling drugs that’s currently thought by just about everybody to be relaxing, soothing and so forth with no major side effects. Maybe, but in a recent study, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers tested more than 100 CBD products available online and at retail stores, and found significant evidence of inaccurate and misleading labeling of CBD content.
The study also revealed that some of these nonprescription products contained amounts of THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis that can cause a “high.”
The study, published July 20 in JAMA Network Open, also found that some of the CBD products made therapeutic claims not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, use at your own risk and don’t assume CBD products are risk-free.
Other drugs should generally be avoided as well, especially Benadryl, an old-school antihistamine that, as a side effect, induces drowsiness. Many consumers think it’s harmless but researchers have linked it to a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Is it really worth the risk?
All drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, should be limited to occasional use after consulting your physician, the Mayo Clinic advises.
“Most sleep aids available without a prescription contain antihistamines. Tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines can develop quickly. The longer you take them, the less likely they are to make you sleepy,” according to the Mayo website.
Move it around
The best sleep-inducing drug is exercise. Jogging, walking, weight training and just about any other physical activity during the day will burn off excess energy, making it easier to get to sleep at night. And by the way, researchers at the Sleep Foundation say that a good night’s sleep makes it easier to exercise the next day
“In other words, optimizing your exercise routine can potentially help you sleep better and getting an adequate amount of sleep may promote healthier physical activity levels during the day,” the foundation advises on its website.
And as we know, regular exercise can help you keep your weight down, reduce the risk of heart disease and other disorders.
“Long-term aerobic exercise training is associated with changes in cardiac morphology; exercise training can also increase blood circulation and improve CVD risk factors such as insulin resistance, blood pressure, dyslipidemia and obesity,” according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The right light
Too much light of any kind makes it hard to fall asleep but some light is worse than others. Many LED lights, smartphones and laptops emit blue wavelength light that interferes with the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
The ideal bedtime light is a candle but the risk of fire outweighs the visual benefits and most experts recommend using an LED that emits a “warmer” light instead of the “natural daylight” on the blue end of the spectrum.
Chinese researchers recently developed a bendable organic LED that releases warm candlelight-like light that’s much more conducive to sleep. It’s expected to be commercially available soon.
Then there’s the little matter of actually falling asleep. Ideally, you’ll find a bedtime ritual that works for you and follow it each night. It can be as simple as reading a chapter or two of a book, doing a little yoga or light stretching exercises or perhaps meditating.
This isn’t the time to do 100 push-ups. Heavy exercise at bedtime will wake you up. Likewise, a nightcap is not really called for. Alcohol may knock you out initially but it’s likely to wake you up an hour or two later.
So go ahead – save $13,000 by sleeping at home. If you need to spend a few thousand for a new mattress and jogging shoes, go for it. A good night’s sleep should come automatically with the right environment, bedtime routine and exercise habits.