Getting a good night’s sleep is good for you. When you’re well-rested, it feels like you can take on the world. But when you don’t get enough sleep, even the slightest worry or task can seem insurmountable. Yet, society often underrates the value of sleep. It’s common to hear people brag about how little sleep they’ve had like it’s a badge of honour and rarely is sleep included in routine medical exams.
For adults, getting between 7-9 hours of sleep is recommended. However, nearly half of adults report challenges getting sufficient sleep. Over the long term, a chronic lack of sleep can lead to a greater chance of being obese and having a heart attack.
When it comes to prevention, we put lots of attention on being active and eating healthy foods. Yet the last thing you may feel like doing when tired is exercise. A lack of sleep is also associated with poor dietary habits as you may be prone to eat more high-energy foods to combat fatigue as well as having a compromised decision-making ability. Therefore, getting enough sleep is the foundation for physical and mental wellbeing and these tips will get you on your way to sleeping better.
1. Sleeping Better Requires a Routine
Our bodies are built on routine and even have their own biological clock. When we do things that change it, such as travelling to different time zones, this can put our clock out of step with the demands of our daily activities. As many know, it can take days to weeks to reset it. That’s why having a proper routine is important, which means having a consistent bedtime and awake time.
Through consistency, you’re helping your body sleep and get the rest it needs. Even if you stay up later one night, it’s usually better to get up as close as possible to your regular wake time. Sleeping in will only make it harder to get to sleep later that night.
2. Wind Down Before Bedtime
As part of your routine, include a time to wind down before you sleep. A time when you reduce active mental and physical work, and instead do activities that are calming. This could be a half hour before your planned bedtime and include things such as reading a book, listening to soothing music or meditating. You may also want to put some lavender oil near your bedside as it has the potential to increase melatonin (the sleep hormone) and improve your sleep quality. Keep in mind to also avoid caffeine too close to your bedtime.
If you find you have a lot of to-do things for the next day on your mind, put a notepad and pen by your bed so you can jot them down. That way you won’t stay awake fretting about trying to remember them. If you build this wind down time into your routine, your body will soon start to recognize these signals that it’s time for bed.
3. Set Up Your Environment for Sleep
If you spend all this time on establishing your routine to help you sleep, it makes sense to do the same with where you sleep. A comfortable bed and pillow are a must. If neither are comfortable this can disturb the quality of your sleep. Set up your bed so it also looks inviting to get into.
When choosing either, keep in mind how you sleep. There are different mattresses and pillows for side versus back sleepers. If you sleep with a partner who regularly steals the sheets away consider switching to using two sets of twin sheets and duvets so you each have your own.
If you live in the city, there may be lots of residential and street lights on all night so investing in black-out blinds or using eyeshades can help. In the morning, open the curtains to let the natural light in. This will help your body prepare for the day ahead. If there’s lots of noise in your area, you might want to consider a white noise machine or sleep with ear plugs.
Lastly, don’t use your bed as a place to work on your laptop or phone. Besides the exposure to blue light (see below), it changes your place of sleep into an area of work. This association may make it harder for your body to wind down and get to sleep.
4. Limit Screen Time
Try turning off all devices and screens an hour before bedtime. From fluorescent lights to flat screen TVs to mobile devices, all emit blue light. Blue light suppresses melatonin, thus making it harder to fall asleep. The greatest emitters of blue light are computers and smart phones. If for some reason you can’t avoid using your devices before bedtime, get a set of glasses that filter out blue light.
Be mindful also, of what you’re watching, reading or doing with your device before bed. Watching an intense thriller may get you overstimulated making it harder to wind down and can affect the quality of your sleep through vivid and even disturbing dreams. Even checking work emails and social media can stir up emotions not conducive to falling asleep.
While there are lots of sleep-aid and white noise apps for your phone, using them may tempt you to dive into your phone to check on your notifications, thus delaying your wind down time. As a rule of thumb, it’s always good to turn off your phone and store it outside of your bedroom while you sleep.
5. Be Careful of Napping
If you’re having trouble sleeping, or are overtired, then one obvious thing to do is to take a nap. This might be okay if you limit it to 20-30 minutes. A nap of this time can make you feel refreshed and improve cognitive function for a short time afterwards. But much longer and you could be impacting your ability to get to sleep later at night.
From a health point of view, regular napping has also been associated with high risk for premature death. However, as pointed out in the study, this may be the result of an underlying health condition, which leads to fatigue. So if you find you can’t make it through the day without napping, seeing your doctor may be warranted.
6. Avoid Social Jetlag
It’s the weekend and time to relax and catch up on those movies or shows you didn’t see during the week. You don’t have to get up early for work the next day, so you can sleep in. Staying up late and sleeping in on weekends is called social jetlag. . It’s called this because it’s really not different from travelling across time zones. It shifts your time clock so when Monday comes around, your body feels like it should be sleeping during the day
We can’t expect to sleep differently on the weekends and then instantly adjust back when Sunday night comes. Social jetlag is also associated with greater chances of getting diabetes and heart disease. And it doesn’t take much to impair your mental function. Even the one-hour time change to Daylight Savings Time in the Spring results in greater workplace injuries and car accidents as a result of less sleep.
When it comes to your long-term health and healthy living, there’s nothing that beats a good night’s sleep.
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