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Lifestyle & Life Moments

How This Year's Biggest Wellness Trends Can Help You Get a Better Night's Sleep

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For many people, a new year brings a renewed interest in all things wellness. And now that 2024 is in full swing, there are a number of wellness trends emerging aimed at helping people be their healthiest (and happiest!) selves.

And, as it turns out, many of this year’s wellness trends can also have a major impact on your sleep.

So, the question is, what’s trendy in the wellness space in 2024—and how can those trends help you get a better night’s rest?

Sauna blankets

Saunas have been shown to help with sleep, affecting hormones, body temperature, and overall mental readiness for sleep.

But saunas aren’t accessible to everyone; not everyone has a gym or spa that provides sauna access. And even if you are one of the lucky people with regular access to a sauna, unless it’s in your home, you’ll still have to commute from the location of your sauna home to where you sleep.

However, one of this year’s wellness trends provides a solution to those problems: Welcome, sauna blankets.

Infrared sauna blankets work similarly to saunas, but instead of warming you within a physical room, they’re a sleeping bag you tuck into.

With a sauna blanket, you can enjoy the sleep-boosting benefits you’d get in a sauna from the comfort of your own home. “Many of the same effects enjoyed in a full-size sauna are experienced in a sauna blanket,” says Raleigh Duncan, a doctor of chiropractic and founder and CEO of Clearlight, which supplies infrared saunas and health and wellness solutions.

Thanks to their design, sauna blankets might actually even be a better solution for falling asleep than a traditional sauna.

“Lying on your back in a sauna blanket may induce sleep faster as you are already starting in a comfortable sleep position,” says Duncan. “Light sleep may start to form even before the session is over.”

If you opt to try sauna blankets as a way to get better sleep, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Build up your sessions. Most sauna blankets allow you to customize the temperature of the blanket and the length of the session, and as you’re introducing sauna blankets into your wellness routine, you’ll want to start on the conservative side. “Start with moderate temperatures and build up to longer [and/or] warmer sessions over time,” says Duncan.
  • Look for an auto shut-off feature. As mentioned, it’s not uncommon to fall asleep during your sauna blanket session. But you don’t want to accidentally spend more time baking than you planned, which is why Duncan recommends that anyone trying one  “use an integral sauna blanket timer with an auto shut-off,” he says.
  • Hydrate. Saunas make you sweat. As such, it’s important to hydrate both before and after using the blanket. “ Drink a good amount of water before and after the session,” Duncan advises.
  • Use a barrier. When you use a sauna blanket, you want to have a barrier between your body and the blanket; not only will this prevent potentially burning the skin, but it also stops sweat from getting in the blanket, which will keep it clean. Many sauna blankets come with their own barriers; if they don’t, you can “use towels or a muslin ‘bag’ inside the sauna blanket to collect perspiration during the session,” says Duncan.
  • Avoid if you have certain medical conditions. While sauna blankets can be a great sleep tool for many, they’re not for everyone. “Anybody with a known cardiovascular disorder, arrhythmia, blood pressure issues, seizure history, any kind of passing out spells just needs to be very careful,” says neurologist and sleep specialist Dr. Chris Winter. If you have any sort of medical issues, make sure to check with your doctor before using a sauna blanket.

Also, to get the most sleep-boosting bang for your buck, consider using the sauna blanket at the same time each night.

Why? “Your body will get used to taking a sauna at the same time,” says Duncan. “It will anticipate the session—[and] when the time is getting closer, release hormones and chemicals to help the sauna [and] sleep process to succeed.”

Cold plunging

Clearly, heat (courtesy of a sauna blanket) can help you get better sleep. Cold can, too.

Cold plunging is a wellness trend that’s become more popular in recent years. As the name suggests, cold plunging involves submerging yourself in cold water (for example, getting into an ice bath), which causes a number of changes to the body.

“The initial cold exposure will cause blood flow to rapidly change; your blood vessels will constrict and divert blood to your vital organs, and your sympathetic nervous system will fire up telling you to get out of the cold water,” says biohacking expert Brandon Crawford, doctor of chiropractic.

Basically, cold plunging causes your body to go into “fight or flight” mode. But that’s only the initial response; if you stick with it, your body will activate the parasympathetic nervous system (AKA “rest and digest”).

“Your blood flow will continue to change; in order to begin to reroute your blood flow to areas of constriction, your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system will activate,” says Crawford.

“Cold exposure will also help to reset cortisol, epinephrine/norepinephrine, and dopamine systems,” Crawford continues. For example, one study found that, following a cold plunge, dopamine levels increase by 250%. Another found that cold therapy is helpful for stress mitigation. “These systems will help to better regulate your sleep/wake cycles and energy throughout the day.”

If you make cold plunging a part of your routine, it can also be “a really strong circadian marker,” says Winter. “I think a cold plunge at the same time every morning would be a really excellent way to not only start the day but kind of remind your brain when the day starts so it can better understand when the day ends.”

In addition to better sleep, research has found that cold plunging offers a variety of health benefits, including improved immune function, lower inflammation, and improved recovery.

If you decide to give cold plunging a try, some things to keep in mind:

  • Plunge in the morning. While cold plunging can ultimately help you get better sleep, immediately following the plunge, you’ll feel more awake and energized, so keep cold plunges to the morning hours.
  • Choose the right temperature…In order to reap the benefits of cold plunging, the water needs to be cold but not too cold. “For optimal results, the temperature of the water should be cold and uncomfortable (to produce the dopamine response), but tolerable—usually around 10 to 15 degrees Celsius (50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit),” says Crawford.
  • …and time. How long you stay in the water is also important. Crawford recommends starting small and slowly increasing the duration of your plunges over time as you acclimate to the practice. “The duration can start from as little as 30 seconds, gradually increasing to 1 to 6 minutes as tolerance builds,” says Crawford. Just don’t stay in too long. “It's essential not to overdo it, especially for beginners, as excessive cold exposure can be counterproductive,” he says.
  • Be safe. You don’t know how your body will react to a cold plunge, so it’s important to have another person nearby. Also, if you have cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, mobility issues, and/or any open wounds, you should consult with a doctor before cold plunging.

Sleep tourism

Some wellness trends are focused on overall health and often indirectly lead to better sleep. But other trends are completely focused on helping you get more high-quality rest, like one of 2024’s biggest wellness trends: sleep tourism.

Sleep tourism is a travel trend that revolves around prioritizing sleep. It’s basically taking a vacation, but instead of revolving around activities and excursions, the vacation revolves around rest.

The level of sleep tourism available at different locations varies; some hotels just aim to create an environment that helps their guests get better rest. For example, “hotels often offer pillow and mattress selections, sleeping music and lights, no Wi-Fi during night time, [and] herbal and aromatic sleep remedies,” says Patrizia Bortolin, co-designer of the Sleep Better retreat at Preidlhof, a luxury wellness resort in northern Italy.

Other retreats offer services specifically designed to help guests better understand—and improve—their sleep. For example, on Preidlhof’s wellness retreats, guests wear sleep devices that connect to a medical sleep lab, which gives them deeper insights into their sleep patterns. They also offer trauma healing sessions as well as services to help their guests relax and get the high-quality rest they need to feel restored and rejuvenated, like meditation, spa, and sleep rituals.

If you want to give sleep tourism a try, you first need to determine how sleep-centric you want your trip to be. For example, do you want to go on a regular vacation that happens to give you great sleep? Do you want to stay at a resort with an on-site spa that offers services specifically designed to promote sleep? Or do you want to go on a retreat that allows you to participate in a sleep study or consult with a sleep doctor? Once you know what you’re looking for, you can look for the best option for you.

“Travel…[is] already a way that people aim to find relief from life’s stresses,” says Bortolin. “But going to wellness or medical retreats…[that specialize] in sleep improvement goes beyond [the typical vacation] and can have hugely positive impacts on one’s life.”

Mocktails

If you’re the kind of person who likes to enjoy a few drinks now and then, you know that alcohol can make you feel tired.

“Initially, while drinking, as blood alcohol concentrations rise, dopamine release leads to a stimulating effect—or buzz,” says Dr. Hrishikesh Belani, medical advisor at mindful drinking app Sunnyside. “High blood-alcohol concentrations then depress the central nervous system, which can lead to sedation or sleepiness.”

But while alcohol may make you feel sleepy, it’s actually terrible for your sleep.

“As the alcohol is metabolized and the blood-alcohol concentrations go down, normal sleep cycles are disrupted,” says Belani.

“Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep usually alternate at night with an average of six to seven cycles,” says Belani. “After alcohol consumption, this has been found to be reduced to only two to three. This is, in part, due to glutamine rebound; while drinking alcohol, production of glutamine, an important amino acid, is suppressed. After blood alcohol levels drop, the body starts producing more glutamine, which can cause wakefulness.”

In addition, “the diuretic effect of alcohol and dehydration may also disrupt sleep,” says Belani (as anyone who has woken up completely parched the morning after a group happy hour has experienced).

But one of 2024’s biggest wellness trends allows people to enjoy a fun beverage without the negative sleep consequences of booze: mocktails.

Mocktails are cocktails without alcohol. And while mocktails were, for a long time, just alcohol-less versions of other drinks (for example, a virgin fill-in-the-blank), as more people have embraced an alcohol-free life (either temporarily, as in Dry January, or for longer stretches of time), there are now dynamic, flavorful options for any palate. “There are a lot of good nonalcoholic bitters and fruit, flower, and herb-derived extracts and cordials available that can be used in small amounts,” says Belani.

Mocktails recreate the experience of having a drink. But because they don’t have any alcohol, they won’t disrupt your sleep in the way that cocktails will, which means you can hit happy hour or go bar hopping on a Friday night and still get a full night of high-quality sleep.

And sleep isn’t the only benefit you’ll experience from swapping your cocktail for a mocktail. “Apart from improved sleep, reducing from high or excessive alcohol intake to moderate or non-intake can have many benefits,” says Belani. These include avoiding hangovers, lowering caloric intake, and reducing stress and anxiety, which can be triggered by alcohol use.

If you want to get in on the mocktail trend, you can take the DIY approach, making your own concoctions. But because mocktails are becoming increasingly popular, many bars have specialty mocktails on their menu, so you can also enjoy them while you’re out with friends.

And if you’re not ready to give up alcohol? Not to worry; this trend isn’t all or nothing. You can still get better sleep by replacing some of your alcoholic beverages with a nonalcoholic version.

“Alternating between alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks—or having one alcoholic beverage and the rest nonalcoholic—can be a good way to get the best of both worlds,” says Belani.

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