Sleep is that essential yet oft-forgotten part of good health and full-body wellness. No matter how healthy the foods you eat are, how frequently you add cardiovascular exercise into your week and how much you meditate or deep breathe, your complete health will be undermined without sufficient hours of shut-eye.
A good’s night rest is incredibly powerful at any age. It helps your brain fire on all cylinders, improves your memory and creativity and helps you stay in a good mood throughout the day. It can even help you physically by decreasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, kidney disease and more. It even affects your appetite and your ability to make smart decisions to stay safe. Sleep deficiency can clearly ruin your overall health and make each day seem like a grind rather than another reason for happiness.
Thankfully, even if you are currently dealing with constant fatigue or sleep deficiency, you do not have to stay in this unhealthy pattern. Getting good sleep can be easy when you know how much sleep your body needs and how you can improve your bedtime routine, surroundings and habits to create the perfect sleeping method.
The average adult needs between seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Of course, teenagers, children and infants need far more than this with newborns needing up to 17 hours every day. However, even adults’ sleep needs can vary between individuals with some feeling perfectly rested with only 6 hours each night and others requiring up to 10 hours before feeling quite like themselves. The best way to tell whether or not you are getting enough sleep is to pay attention to how you feel during the day. If you routinely feel drowsy in the afternoon or evening or even drift off several times throughout the day, you clearly need more sleep than you are currently getting.
Sleep deprivation refers to an inadequate amount of sleep. Some of the most common signs that you may be sleep-deprived include the following:
- Falling asleep in fewer than five minutes after going to bed
- Experiencing mood changes
- Inability to concentrate or focus at work
- Feeling forgetful
Matthew Walker, popular neuroscientist and sleep consultant, agrees with just how bad sleep deprivation can be. In his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, he describes just how vulnerable the body can become when it does not get enough of the sleep cycles it needs. From cancer and Alzheimer’s disease to depression and anxiety, chronic lack of sleep can eventually lead to terrible physical and mental health problems. With research backed up by functional MRIs and electroencephalograms, Walker has shown just how important getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep truly is.
Changes in Sleep Requirements
At some points in your life, you may find that your need for sleep changes. For example, if you are newly pregnant, you will find that you need to take a nap nearly every day or sleep in every morning to get sufficient rest. You may also need more sleep than usual if you were recently sick, have just gone through a stressful experience or have missed a high amount of sleep over the past several nights. Although some think that a person can adapt to getting less sleep, this is simply not true. Your body needs a specific amount to feel its best. Judge how much you need by your ability to wake up feeling rested without the aid of an alarm clock whenever possible.
Sleep needs can also change based on your gender, genetics and natural circadian rhythm. In general, women experience more changes in sleep needs over the course of their lives than men do because of many hormonal changes, such as menopause. Your circadian rhythm, or natural internal clock, can also make a huge difference in sleep needs and patterns. As you age, you may find that your internal clock begins waking you up earlier than ever and makes you more tired in the evening. Many older adults also find that they get less sleep than they once did.
Another interesting consideration when it comes to how much sleep will leave you feeling rested is the season. It may come as no surprise to you that the winter months naturally make you feel sleepier than the summer months do. Once again, your natural internal clock comes into play as less sunlight naturally turns off your wakefulness. You may need an extra one to two hours of sleep per night during these darker months to feel the same level of alertness that you did in the summer.
Sleep Habits to Avoid
If you are looking for ways to improve your sleep schedule and the quality of sleep that you get each night, you will first want to address some of things that you may be doing right now that are ruining your sleep. Here are just a few of the worst habits when it comes to high-quality sleep.
Ingesting caffeine too late in the day
Try to skip caffeine in the late afternoon and certainly in the evening.
Ingesting alcohol before bed
Although alcohol initially makes you sleepy, it can lead to light sleep that does not leave you feeling very restored by the next morning.
Looking at screens before bed
The blue light in your smartphone or television screen prevents your body from releasing sleep hormones.
Eating large meals or snacks before bed
Not only may you end up with heartburn once you lie down, but also your body will be spending too much energy on digesting your food to help you fall asleep.
Keeping an inconsistent sleep/wake cycle
Although it can be tempting to go to bed and wake up later on weekends, keeping the same sleep/wake cycle all week long works better with your circadian rhythm.
Taking naps late in the day
If you pulled an all-nighter, it can be tempting to take a nap when you are crashing after work. However, taking a nap within five hours of your bedtime can keep you awake even longer once your normal bedtime rolls around.
Exercising too late in the day
Some studies have shown that vigorous exercise too late in the day may make it more difficult for some people to fall asleep.
Getting Quality Sleep
It can be easy to say that you need to get more sleep every night, but it can be incredibly difficult to put this into practice. After all, what can you do if you lay in bed staring at the ceiling for two hours before drifting off or if you are woken up every night by a cat that loves to meow beneath your window? By changing your sleep habits, creating the ideal sleeping environment and following some tips for improving your ability to fall asleep and experience better quality of sleep, you can feel well-rested and more energetic in no time.
Once you have eliminated the previous bad habits from your life, it is time to start putting better habits in their place. Try the following as you get started.
Expose yourself to sunlight every day
Your body naturally makes melatonin in the evening to help you fall asleep. Getting sunlight or even being in bright lights in the morning helps turn off the melatonin in your body and reset your circadian rhythm.
While exercise right before bed can be too energizing, getting your body moving and your heart pumping every day helps you feel tired by the end of the day.
Go to bed when you are slightly tired
If you are not tired at all when you head to bed, it may take you even longer to fall asleep than it would if you just stayed up to read or journal for another half hour.
Create a smart bedtime routine
When you have a routine that you follow every night before going to bed, you can cue your body to know that it is just about time to fall asleep.
Eat light carbohydrates if you are hungry
Although it is best not to eat at all before heading to bed, if you are very hungry, a light snack of carbohydrates and perhaps some protein is far superior to a fat-heavy snack that requires too much energy from your body to digest.
Get rid of worries or stressors before falling asleep
If you have worries flying through your mind when you lie down, you are going to find it nearly impossible to relax. Take some time to make a list of all the things you need to get done the next day, or pause to journal for 10 to 15 minutes before turning off the lights.
Improving the Bedroom
In addition, your bedroom environment should be conducive to sleep. The best bedrooms are comfortable, quiet, cool and dark. Purchase comfortable sheets and blankets that keep you the perfect temperature while you are asleep and a pillow that adequately supports your head and neck. If you have owned your mattress for 10 years or longer, it may be time to shop for a new one so that you do not wake up with an aching back.
Next, make sure that your bedroom is quiet. Keep televisions and radios out of the room, use heavy-duty curtains that help block outdoor noise, and invest in a white noise machine or app if there is simply no way to turn off outdoor noises.
Your bedroom should also be cool as your body’s circadian rhythm naturally responds to lower temperatures with deeper sleep. Although you may need to try a range of temperatures for sleeping before landing on the one that leaves you the most comfortable, research shows that the prime temperature for sleeping lies around 65 degrees.
Finally, make your bedroom as dark as possible. Investing in room-darkening curtains is vital as they will keep out early morning light and even the glare of streetlights. You may also need to consider moving your alarm clock across the room if the numbers are shining in your eyes each night.
Sleep is incredibly important to your life, and it may take you some time before you get your sleep environment and routine back on the right track. However, the time and energy you spend on doing this can reap huge dividends as you find yourself with more daytime productivity, better moods and improved creativity. You may even find that your attention to sleep decreases your risk for certain illnesses and gives you a far higher quality of life than you have ever dared to imagine.