How To Sleep Better By Making These Two Changes, According To New Research

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When it comes to getting great sleep at night, body clock schedules can vary. You might be wide awake at the break of dawn each day, or maybe you get a boost of energy in the wee hours of the night. While there’s no perfect sleep formula that works for absolutely everyone, new research shows that there are two small shifts you can make during the day that can help you sleep better at night.

If you’re a ‘night owl’ and you manage mood or mental health issues, new research says that you can shift your sleep schedule and get better rest. And consistent, quality sleep is integral to good mental and physical health. University of Birmingham researchers say that night owls with extreme sleep schedules can alter their circadian rhythms, learn to wake up earlier, decrease depression and stress, and improve overall energy and mood, according to the new study, published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

Also of interest to people who want to improve their sleep? Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign say that, according to their recent findings, optimists tend to sleep better and longer than people with more negative ongoing moods do. In a study of over 3,500 people, participants who reported higher levels of optimism were more likely to say that they slept better at night. Moreover, these study subjects were 74% more likely to report less daytime fatigue and insomnia, while getting more hours of sleep each night (between six and nine hours, on average).

When you look at these two findings together, you might just find that adjusting your sleep schedule can improve your mood — and a better overall mood helps you sleep better and longer over time.

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“Results from this study revealed significant associations between optimism and various characteristics of self-reported sleep after adjusting for a wide array of variables, including socio-demographic characteristics, health conditions, and depressive symptoms,” lead study author Dr. Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois, said in a press release.

"The lack of healthy sleep is a public health concern, as poor sleep quality is associated with multiple health problems,” Dr. Hernandez said. “Dispositional optimism — the belief that positive things will occur in the future — has emerged as a psychological asset of particular salience for disease-free survival and superior health.”

For night owls with tendencies towards negative moods, optimizing exposure to daylight hours can help, according to UK researchers. While some, more moderate late risers experience no adverse effects from their sleep schedules, extreme late sleeping and waking habits may point to more severe sleep disturbances, the study’s authors said in a statement. “Retraining” the body clock — or circadian rhythm — can help regulate sleep patterns, lead to more energy in the mornings, boost mood, and lessen stress.

“We wanted to see if there were simple things people could do at home to solve this issue,” study author Dr. Andrew Bagshaw from the University of Birmingham said. “This was successful, on average, allowing people to get to sleep and wake up around two hours earlier than they were before. Most interestingly, this was also associated with improvements in mental wellbeing and perceived sleepiness, meaning that it was a very positive outcome for the participants. We now need to understand how habitual sleep patterns are related to the brain, how this links with mental wellbeing and whether the interventions lead to long-term changes.” Though this study only looked at 22 participants, the findings may be helpful for people who haven't tried resetting their body clock for better sleep.

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While these studies show that better mood improves sleep, and vice versa, what’s even more promising to note about this research is that, if you feel the need to tweak your sleep schedule, it’s doable without medication. By waking up two to three hours before your usual wake time, going to bed two to three hours early, having breakfast as soon as you can after waking up, and not eating dinner after 7 p.m. (if you can), you can minimize daytime sleepiness, sleep better at night, and feel happier overall. The study’s authors also recommend that you keep your sleep and wake times fixed for best results — even on the weekends.

If your current sleep and wake times work well for you, and you feel great most of the time, then carry on. However, if you’re a night owl due for a mood upgrade, and you know your sleep quality could stand some improvement, researchers suggest that the adjustment is pretty simple.