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Sleep Better in the New Year

For many, 2020 was a year that provided lots of worries that kept us tossing and turning at night. Tara Parker-Pope’s guide, How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep, is packed with advice:

We spend about one-third of our lives asleep, and sleep is essential to better health. But many of us are struggling with sleep. Four out of five people say that they suffer from sleep problems at least once a week and wake up feeling exhausted. So how do you become a more successful sleeper? Grab a pillow, curl up and keep reading to find out.

Here are more articles from the past year in Well that may help you start the new year with better sleep.

By Anahad O’Connor

With the coronavirus pandemic, school and work disruptions and a contentious election season contributing to countless sleepless nights, sleep experts have encouraged people to adopt a variety of measures to overcome their stress-related insomnia. Among their recommendations: engage in regular exercise, establish a nightly bedtime routine and cut back on screen time and social media.

But many people may be overlooking another important factor in poor sleep: diet. A growing body of research suggests that the foods you eat can affect how well you sleep, and your sleep patterns can affect your dietary choices.

Researchers have found that eating a diet that is high in sugar, saturated fat and processed carbohydrates can disrupt your sleep, while eating more plants, fiber and foods rich in unsaturated fat — such as nuts, olive oil, fish and avocados — seems to have the opposite effect, helping to promote sound sleep.

By Richard Schiffman

A daily dose of sunlight won’t fend off or cure coronavirus, though researchers continue to explore the effects that warmer weather and ultraviolet rays might have on the virus. But scientists are finding that exposure to the sun has numerous other benefits that may be especially important now — including helping to elevate mood, to improve the quality of our sleep and to strengthen the body’s innate defenses against a variety of pathogens.

Exposure to daylight is critical for accurately setting our internal circadian clock, which in turn regulates sleep and waking, said Mariana Figueiro, the director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Without adequate light, we can go into a kind of permanent jet lag, Dr. Figueiro explained, where we get more easily irritated and depressed, our immune function is suppressed and our overall health may deteriorate.

By Gretchen Reynolds

People who are evening types go to bed later and wake up later than morning types. They also tend to move around far less throughout the day, according to an interesting new study of how our innate body clocks may be linked to our physical activity habits. The study, one of the first to objectively track daily movements of a large sample of early birds and night owls, suggests that knowing our chronotype might be important for our health.

In recent years, a wealth of new science has begun explicating the complex roles of cellular clocks and chronotypes in our health and lifestyles. Thanks to this research, we know that each of us contains a master internal body clock, located in our brains, that tracks and absorbs outside clues, such as ambient light, to determine what time it is and how our bodies should react. This master clock directs the rhythmic release of hormones, such as melatonin, and other chemicals that affect sleep, wakefulness, hunger and many other physiological systems.

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