Do you struggle with being able to fall asleep? Do you spend hours tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling? Or maybe you’re able to get to sleep initially, but you wake up throughout the night and struggle to fall back asleep.
Don’t worry – you’re not alone. You’re actually one of the millions of people dealing with sleep issues. Studies show that the majority of people sleep 6 or fewer hours per night, and 60% of people report having sleep problems at least a few nights per week.
So why is this a big deal, and why do we need sleep?
Sleep is one of the best and most important things you can do for your body
- Improves memory — sleep strengthens memory and improves ‘practiced’ skills we did while awake through a process called consolidation
- Increases lifespan — organ systems ‘renew’ themselves while we sleep, so sleeping less than the required amounts can have negative effects on all body systems
- Improves athletic performance — improves speed, hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and muscle recovery
- Increases concentration and cognitive performance — our bodies function less than optimally on sleep deprivation, sometimes causing what we call ‘brain fog’
- Helps maintain a healthy weight — sleep and hormones are controlled by the same area of the brain, and a lack of sleep increases hunger hormones, causing us to eat more
- Boosts mood — sleep deprivation is associated with greater emotional reactivity and negative mood
- Keeps the heart healthy — decreases risk of heart health problems like heart attacks and high blood pressure
- Strengthens the immune system — keeps immune cells and proteins in optimal performance shape
- Tissue growth and repair — releases growth hormone for growth and development, as well as muscle development
While this isn’t a complete list, it’s pretty clear that your body works magic when you sleep. When you don’t get enough, many of the restorative processes that occur during sleep can’t happen and you’re more at risk for developing illnesses.
Maybe you’re getting sufficient sleep every night — say 7-8 hours — but you still wake up feeling tired. Is something wrong with you? Absolutely not. Many of us struggle with waking up not feeling rested. But not to worry, because there are certain things you can do to ensure that when you wake up after 8 hours, you feel rested and rejuvenated.
Simple things you can do to help improve your sleep quality
- Stay in sync with your body’s natural circadian rhythm (your sleep-wake cycle). Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle keeps our bodies in tune. Going to sleep and waking at the same time everyday — weekends included — helps set the body’s internal clock and puts us into a rhythm.
- Minimize exposure to artificial light in the evening. The blue light that devices like phones, tablets, TVs, and laptops emit is especially disruptive to the body and its ability to produce melatonin. Minimizing exposure to these sources 1-2 hours before bedtime will decrease the potential for neural stimulation. If you absolutely must use a device, however, you have a few options. Light-altering software like f.lux or blue-light blocking glasses helps to minimize the amount of exposure we receive. It’s also best to keep all windows covered to ensure your room is as dark as possible. If blackout shades aren’t an option, try a sleep mask.
- Refrain from exercising at night. The timing of your exercise is crucial to getting a good sleep. Exercising speeds up the metabolism, raises body temperature, and increases the production of hormones like cortisol — all factors that can prevent us from a proper sleep. Try to limit exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime to avoid interfering with sleep patterns.
- Be smart about what you eat or drink. Avoiding large meals, sugary foods, and refined carbohydrates in the evening can help improve sleep. Certain foods trigger to body to become more alert and can hinder our ability to sleep. Fasting is also a great option to improve sleep quality. If you’re unable to fast for full days, try skipping dinner every now and again and take notice of how your sleep changes.
- Control your sleep environment. Try to eliminate outside noise from neighbours, traffic, and even inside your house. Keep your room cool (around 18 degrees C), too — it’s been proven that a slightly cooler room is more ideal for sleeping than a warmer one. Most importantly, keep your bed for sleep only. Your brain makes associations quickly, so when you work, watch TV, or use your computer in bed, it makes it that much harder for your body to recognize it as a place to sleep.
- Try relaxing exercises or meditation. Overstimulation is one of the biggest sleep killers around. Breathing exercises, meditation, or other calming activities will help relax the body and prepare it for a deep, sound, uninterrupted sleep.
- Take melatonin. If you follow this advice and still find yourself struggling to fall asleep, consider taking a melatonin supplement. The body naturally produces melatonin when it’s time to start winding down, and although it won’t help you stay asleep, adding a melatonin supplement will help normalize your body’s internal clock and get your sleep schedule back on track.
- Try mouth-taping or a mouthpiece. If you struggle with sleep apnea or keeping your mouth closed at night, try placing a short length of tape across your lips before you go to bed. This will eliminate disordered breathing and help to encourage permanent nasal breathing.
- Listen to binaural beats. Putting on music that evokes delta and theta brainwave states helps to encourage deep sleep and relaxation.
Next time you think about going for a run or downing that burger and fries before bed, think twice. It might be the small choices you’re making that are preventing you from getting a restful sleep. With these tips, though, you’re sure to get yourself back on track. Happy sleeping!
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Featured image by Flickr Creative Commons marco.dambros