We are asleep for roughly one-third of our lives. It’s amazing how we spend so much time doing something but we’re still so bad at it. Sleep deficiency is a common health problem in the United States, partially because people are not educated on healthy sleep patterns and also due to the lack of prioritization around sleeping an age-appropriate amount. Sleep deficiency can lead to chronic issues including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. In order to get a healthy night’s sleep, it’s important to evaluate your lifestyle and cut out habits that are making your sleep time less rejuvenating.
The more physically active you are the better you will sleep at night. As little as ten minutes of aerobic exercise a day can dramatically improve your sleep. Exercise reduces stress and tires you out which will make it easier to get to bed. The only area where you should be cautious when it comes to your daily dose of exercise is timing it correctly for your body. If you feel energized directly after a workout, get it done in the morning, if you feel tired and relaxed afterward you may be the kind of person who should work out in the evening. If you don’t have the time or the money to invest in daily workouts, simply by walking instead of taking transportation can prove to be a productive way to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
There is some debate around the power nap, whether it’s harmful or helpful. The rule to keep in mind with napping is (drum roll, please) — everything in proportion. Napping can actually offer incredible health benefits for adults including improvements in mood, reaction time, and memory. Productive naps should usually last 30 to 45 minutes. If you’re taking longer naps too close to bedtime it can result in insomnia or sleep inertia. Sleep inertia can leave you feeling groggy and disoriented after a nap that’s too long.
A consistent sleep schedule designed for you is important to living a healthy life. It’s important to remember that although there are healthy amounts of recommended sleep your personal schedule may not allow for sleep the same way someone else’s does. This is okay and it’s important to design your sleeping habits to fit your lifestyle. Age is another factor that affects how much sleep you should be getting. According to Sleep Foundation the older you get the less sleep you actually require. Teenagers aged 14 to 17 are recommended eight to ten hours of sleep whereas younger adults aged 18 to 25 are recommended 7 to 9. Adults aged 65 and up are only recommended 7 to 8. Try setting alerts for when you should start getting ready for bed as well as when you should wake up. Your body clock will eventually adjust even if it’s a struggle at first.
The light in your room has an effect on your internal body clock. Waking up a few confusing minutes before your alarm can actually be due to light seeping through your windows. When your cells detect sunlight chemicals are released in your body making you more alert. The same thing happens at night when the sun goes down, your melatonin levels drop and you begin feeling less alert and energized. Your body takes cues from the amount of light in your bedroom. Making sure that your room is completely dark will improve the deepness of your sleep and will also assist in falling asleep faster. If you take a trip to the bathroom at night avoid switching all the lights in your room on as this may be a shock to the system and will ultimately make it harder to get back to bed.
Technology and screens link heavily to light. The blue light that is emitted from your computer and phone is taxing on your eyes and also suppresses the release of melatonin in our bodies. Technology actually keeps your brain alert and online stimulants will make it harder to relax and unwind directly before sleep. Harmlessly scrolling through Instagram can be more dangerous than you think. Stumbling upon big news or a dramatic post may trigger anxiety and make sleep more difficult. Furthermore falling down an internet rabbit hole right before bed may drastically affect the time you go to sleep, we’ve all been there.
Anxiety makes it much harder to relax and trouble sleeping can pile the anxiety on even more. It sounds like a never ending cycle but there are ways to soothe your nerves before bedtime. Meditation and breathing exercises can help relax your body and mind. Another great way to calm and distract your anxious mind is a sound machine or a sound app. The rhythmic sound has the power to alter our brainwave patterns and can assist in leading our minds into relaxed or meditative states. Sound therapy can help you alleviate anxiety by re-teaching your brain to relax, it cools down your “fight-or-flight” response and nurtures your “relaxation-response”.
Certain foods and drugs can have negative effects on your sleep. The most obvious is caffeine. It takes about four to six hours to completely wear off so it’s a good idea to curb your caffeine intake at the very least four hours before bed. Nicotine can also ruin sleep habits. Because it’s a stimulant drug it can induce insomnia and withdrawal symptoms can also affect sleep. Research has shown that nonsmokers can experience deeper sleep than smokers. A lot of it has to do with the presence of nicotine in the blood in early sleep and then withdrawal symptoms kicking in in the morning when the nicotine has worn off. REM, or rapid eye movement, makes up for about 25% of our time spent asleep. It’s the period in which the areas of your brain, used for learning, are stimulated. It’s also the time in which you are able to dream. REM is thought to be involved in the process of storing memories and usually occurs 90 minutes after you fall asleep. The consumption of alcohol can actually reduce the amount of time your REM sleep and in some cases totally cut it out. This can negatively affect your memories and healthy brain activity.
Replacing coffee with herbal teas, or taking melatonin pills to increase levels in your body can be helpful methods of counteracting certain habits you’re used to. If you are a smoker or hooked on five lattes a day, quitting cold turkey may be hard, instead, try cutting down your use towards the end of the day. Alcohol can certainly be an occasional indulgence without completely throwing off your sleep schedule, but if it becomes a regular part of your routine before bed you may end up hindering your memories and experiencing a poorer quality of rest.
The environment in which you’re sleeping in is crucial to the quality of your sleep. A really easy way to create a sanctuary out of your sleeping space is to make sure you’re not bringing any stresses into it. Try not to do work on or in your bed. Associating your bed with anything stressful with ultimately trigger anxious thoughts before bedtime.
Written by Delfina Forstmann