It seems like every week, there’s coverage of some new study looking at the problems associated with too little sleep—and things that we should do to be getting more of it.
But unless you’ve got endless amounts of time on your hands, it can be tough to keep up with all the new info. So we’ve done the work for you. Here’s a look at some of the most fascinating sleep studies published this year, and how they can help you achieve more quality shuteye—and better health.
1. Sleep interruptions are worse than short sleep.
Eight hours of shuteye might not be all that restorative if you’re constantly being interrupted, suggests recent Johns Hopkins Medicine findings. After just two nights of poor sleep, subjects who were woken up several times throughout the night had worse moods compared to those who slept for less time overall but weren’t interrupted.
“When your sleep is disrupted throughout the night, you don’t have the opportunity to progress through the sleep stages to get the amount of slow-wave sleep that is key to the feeling of restoration,” explains lead study author Patrick Finan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
2. Nighttime caffeine throws off your body clock.
It’s no secret that downing a cup of coffee before bed makes it harder to fall asleep. But now, experts at the University of Colorado Boulder are learning more about why. They found that when subjects consumed the caffeine equivalent of a double espresso three hours before bedtime, the caffeine caused a 40-minute delay in subjects’ 24-hour biological clock.
The findings, published in Science Translational Medicine, might explain why caffeine-drinking night owls tend to go to bed later and wake up later. What’s more? They offer clues on how properly timed caffeine could help travelers fight jet lag and stay on a more normal sleep schedule.
3. Problems controlling your emotions could lead to insomnia.
Are certain personality types more prone to insomnia than others? Maybe, according to new Swedish findings. Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 adults about their emotional regulation (like impulse control or emotional awareness) and sleep habits at the start of the study, and again six to 18 months later.
They found that survey-takers who had gotten worse at regulating their emotions over time were 11 percent more likely to develop insomnia compared to people whose emotion regulation had stayed the same.
The takeaway? “These findings… suggest that teaching people strategies for regulating their emotions might help prevent new cases of insomnia to occur and decrease the risk of persistent insomnia,” explains lead researcher Markus Jansson-Fröjmark.
4. Nature could be key to better sleep.
Whether it’s a tree-lined park or a serene beach, the great outdoors can help some people avoid counting sheep. In a large-scale survey of over 255,000 people, researchers found those who reported the most nights of poor sleep were less likely to have access to natural spaces. The link was particularly strong for men and adults over 65.
People who lived near green spaces tended to be more active, and it’s well known that exercising regularly can help you sleep better. “If there is a way for persons over 65 to spend time in nature, it would improve the quality of their sleep–and their quality of life–if they did so,” says study author Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, a University of Illinois professor of kinesiology and community health, as well as a faculty member in the University of Illinois’s Division of Nutritional Sciences.
5. You might need fewer sleep meds.
There are plenty of reasons to avoid prescription sleep pills whenever possible. But sometimes, your doctor might decide that sleep meds might be the right way to temporarily treat your insomnia.
But you might need less medication than you think. A Sleep Medicine study involving 74 participants found that taking half of the standard amount of Ambien (5 mg instead of 10 mg) is effective as a maintenance dose.
“The full dose may or may not be required to get the initial effect, but certainly maintaining the effect can be done with less medication,” said the study’s senior author Michael Perlis, PhD, an associate professor in Penn’s department of Psychiatry and director of the Penn Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program. Still, always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medication regimen.
6. Managing work stress could help you snooze better.
Findings published by the journal Sleep offer up even more evidence for something that many overworked folks already know: When your job gets crazy, your ability to get a good night’s sleep takes a nosedive.
In a two-year study of nearly 5,000 people, researchers found that higher work demands tend to result in sleep disturbances. The culprit?
No surprise here—it’s stress. If work is affecting your ability to sleep, it might be worth talking with your boss about finding ways to lessen your load. If that isn’t possible, brainstorm other ways that you can reduce your stress levels inside and outside of the office.
7. Napping can help you think more clearly.
A full night’s sleep isn’t the only thing that can boost your brainpower. According to a recent University of Michigan study, taking a 60-minute nap can make it easier to solve difficult, frustrating problems and make you less impulsive.
The findings, researchers say, could be especially important for people who need to recharge while working long shifts, like healthcare workers. Fortunately, we know that shorter naps can help those with standard 9-to-5 jobs work smarter, too.
8. Eating less at night can help you deal with sleep deprivation.
Whether it’s a new baby, a tight project deadline, or a pet that wants to play all night, there will be nights when eight hours of quality sleep just isn’t achievable. In those cases, limiting the nighttime snacks can help minimize the unpleasant consequences.
Recent University of Pennsylvania research found that eating lighter at night helps stave off the lack of alertness and difficulty concentrating that tends to accompany a night of fragmented sleep.
Researchers still aren’t sure how eating less minimizes the affects of fragmented sleep. But if you know you won’t be getting much sleep, consider doing lighter fare like soup or salad for dinner.
9. Certain types of exercise leads to better shuteye.
You know that being active is important for sleep—but more intense forms of exercise might be more effective. Recent University of Pennsylvania findings show that vigorous workouts like bicycling, running, or weight lifting are associated with better sleep than just walking.
If a daily stroll around the block hasn’t done much to help you sleep better, consider ramping up the intensity. Try alternating walking with jogging, or take a fast-paced bike ride around your neighborhood. Come bedtime, you might end up snoozing more soundly.
10. You should deal with your insomnia right away.
Taking steps to address insomnia as soon as it starts is more effective than waiting until it transforms into a chronic problem, says a recent study published in the journal Sleep. The fix is actually easier than you would expect.
When adults who had been suffering for insomnia for less than three months underwent an hour of cognitive behavioral therapy, 60 percent reported improvements within one month, and 73 percent reported improvements within three months.
An hour of therapy for better sleep? Seems worth it to us.
11. Kids sleep better with a nighttime routine.
If bedtime has turned into a battle with your little one, you might want to think about instituting a nightly routine, according to recent research from the American Academy of Sleep medicine.
In a study of more than 10,000 children under age 6, experts found that having a regular bedtime helped kids fall asleep faster, wake up less throughout the night, and sleep longer. And those who also had a consistent bedtime routine—like a bath or a story before bed—slept an hour longer each night and had fewer behavior problems during the day.
12. Melatonin can help you sleep better in a noisy environment.
Whether you live in a bustling city or have roommates who love staying up late, taking melatonin can help. When Chinese researchers studied the sleep quality of 40 healthy adults who were forced to snooze while listening to recordings of loud noises, those who took melatonin supplements slept better compared to those who used earplugs or eye masks. They felt less anxious in the morning, too.
13. Sleeping too much is really unhealthy.
You know that logging eight hours of snooze time is essential for your health and well-being. But sleeping for longer than that appears to increase the risk for stroke by as much as 46 percent–especially among older adults, found a University of Cambridge study of more than 10,000 people.
What’s the connection? “We need to understand the reasons behind the link between sleep and stroke risk. What is happening in the body that causes this link? With further research, we may find that excessive sleep proves to be an early indicator of increased stroke risk, particularly among older people,” says lead study author Kay-Tee Shaw.
If you’re consistently sleeping for more than 8 hours a night, it might be worth setting an alarm to prevent oversleeping.
14. Mindfulness meditation promotes quality sleep.
If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, adopting mindfulness practices could make a difference, says a study published in JAMA. Compared to adults who underwent a standardized program designed to teach healthier sleep habits, those who incorporated simple mindfulness techniques into their routine reported fewer symptoms of insomnia, depression and fatigue.
Which just might make you wonder: What kind of sleep-related findings will we be in store for next year?