Sleep is essential to both our mental and physical health. So why does it seem like such a challenge to get a consistent amount of rest every night?
There are many factors that can cause a lack of sleep, including stress, illness, and the light from current technologies.
If you struggle with sleep, don’t fret. While you can’t control every little thing that interrupts your sleep cycle, there are steps you can take to help improve the rest you get each night.
Why Is Sleep Important for Our Health?
Believe it or not, getting consistent and adequate sleep is as important to our health as a healthy diet and regular exercise. Having a good quality night of sleep helps improve our physical and mental health.
While you sleep, your body works to repair itself, supporting healthy brain function, growth, and development. Your brain forms new pathways to improve your ability to learn and retain information. Sleep also helps your attentiveness, creativity, and decision-making.
It’s not just your brain that repairs overnight. Your body also repairs your heart and blood vessels. This helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke, and even obesity. In addition, sleep lets your body maintain balance in your hunger levels and insulin.
Lacking sleep can also prevent you from properly processing positive emotional information. This is why lack of sleep is tied to mental health struggles, such as depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and much more.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
The amount of sleep each person needs depends on the person’s age. Adults 18 and older generally need between seven to nine hours a night. And those hours must be all at once. A lack of sleep during the night followed by a long nap, or a weekend of sleeping in, is not enough for your body to adequately repair itself.
For optimal sleep, you need a steady sleep-wake cycle along with the proper amount of sleep. So planning to get between seven and nine hours every night, even on the weekends, is the best way to consistently get healthy sleep.
How Can I Improve My Sleep?
It may seem like a lot is riding on a good night’s sleep! But thankfully, there are tweaks you can make to your routine and habits to improve your night’s rest. Here are three actionable ways to consistently get better sleep.
Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing oasis
The best way to start improving your rest is to optimise your bedroom’s sleeping conditions. There are several things you can do to make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary.
- Invest in a high-quality mattress and pillow: You can’t sleep well if you’re not sleeping comfortably. A proper mattress will support your spine, reducing the likelihood of aches and pains. The same goes for your pillow. You need a pillow that will properly support your neck and skull, keeping your spine aligned. Everyone sleeps differently, so the type of mattress and pillow you require will depend on your specific preferences.
- Keep your bedroom cool: While you don’t want to be too cold or too hot as you try to drift off, temperature does play a role in sleeping well. Your body’s temperature fluctuates and drops throughout the night. Trying to sleep in a warm bedroom can leave you tossing and turning. It can interfere with your body’s natural thermoregulation abilities. It can also hinder each stage of the sleep cycle. So keeping your bedroom around a cool 18 degrees Celsius will improve your body’s ability to rest.
- Keep your bedroom for sleeping only: The mental cues that come with your bedroom can make a surprising difference in your ability to sleep. If you work, eat, or otherwise entertain yourself in your bed, then your body doesn’t solely associate it with sleep. Instead, get out of bed and make it at the beginning of each day. Only come back to it in the evening when you’re ready to relax.
- Drown out the noise and light: If you live near a busy street, have noisy neighbours, or even just thin walls, external sounds can affect your sleep. The same goes for the light coming through your windows. Natural sunlight during the day will help you sleep better at night. The same can’t be said, however, for street lamps brightening your room at night or streaks of sunlight hitting your eyes before you’re ready to start your day. To tackle these distractions, use white noise and blackout curtains. White noise playlists or machines can help drown out external noises, and blackout curtains keep your room dark enough for optimal sleep.
Make it a point to relax before bed
While you may think that sleep issues start when you go to bed, the time preceding your bedtime is important as well. Going to bed carrying stress or excess energy makes it difficult to fall asleep.
Take between 30 minutes to an hour before bed to focus on relaxation habits. Consider adding some of these to your pre-bedtime routine:
- Take a hot bath or shower.
- Lower the lights.
- Listen to relaxing music.
- Read a book.
Most importantly, avoid electronic devices within 30 minutes of going to bed. The blue light that comes from cell phones, laptops, and tablets can mess with your circadian rhythm and keep you awake. At the very least, use blue light filters to reduce the effect.
Starting the process of relaxing before you actually go to bed will help you fall asleep sooner and improve your overall sleep quality.
Tweak your daytime habits
The way you spend your day can also affect the way you sleep at night. There are several things to do throughout the day to prepare yourself for a good night of sleep.
- Take in natural light: Daylight helps regulate your body’s internal clock. So getting natural light from outside or even open doors and windows can help normalise your body’s rhythm. If you have trouble getting natural light in your day, consider a light therapy box.
- Cut out caffeine early: It goes without saying that the later in the day you take in caffeine, the longer it will keep you awake in the evening. Whether you switch to decaf in the afternoon or cut your afternoon coffee completely, make sure you stop consuming caffeine between six to eight hours before your bedtime.
- Exercise: Moving your body daily has obvious benefits to your physical health, but it can also help with your sleep. Studies show that exercise can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by 55% and increase sleep time by 18%. However, don’t exercise too soon before bed. This will cause your body’s temperature and energy levels to rise, making it harder to settle down.
Sleep is a critical piece to your physical and mental health. By making some subtle changes in your day-to-day habits, you can improve your quality of sleep and, therefore, your quality of life.