Sleep, or lack thereof, has a significant effect on our overall health and well-being. When we are well rested, our mental capacity, physical health and emotional wellness are all able to perform to the best of their ability, according to Allied Sleep. However, chronic sleep issues can have a detrimental impact on not just these aspects of our health but many others as well. According to the CDC, “insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.”
Unfortunately, as we all know, sometimes getting a good night’s sleep isn’t as easy as just closing our eyes. It can be a challenge to get the recommended quantity and quality of sleep you need to stay healthy. But the work is worth the reward. Good, quality sleep habits have the ability to transform your mind and body.
So how much sleep should you be getting a night? The quantity of sleep you need depends on a few things, but mostly your age. If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, you should be getting seven or more hours of sleep per night, according to the CDC.
Remember, sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity. Unfortunately, there are many factors that can prevent us from getting good quality sleep. Some of these issues, such as obstructed breathing or a feeling of restlessness in your extremities, can be diagnosed as a true sleep disorder and be treated with medical intervention. However, for most of us, achieving a long and restful night’s sleep is possible without medication or evaluation.
Here are seven tips to improve your sleep and, in turn, improve your health.
1. Create a sleep schedule.
Whatever happened to sleep being as easy as Step 1: Fall asleep. Step 2: Wake up? Well, as we age and our stress levels increase, it gets harder and harder to sleep. This is why a sleep schedule is key. Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Also, consider your routine before bedtime. Are you running around the house trying to get things done? Are you trying to fit in just a few more emails? Or, are you starting to relax and unwind from a busy day? Your body can’t go from 100 to 0 in just a few minutes; it takes time. Consider starting your sleep routine an hour before you plan to fall asleep. Try relaxing activities like meditating or journaling.
2. Consider your surroundings.
A cool, comfortable room is the best atmosphere for a good night’s sleep. Try to create an environment that is dark, quiet and calming. If silence bothers you, consider turning on a fan or using a noise machine at a very low volume. If you prefer a silent room to fall asleep but can’t control your surroundings (or worse, sleep with a snorer), try using earplugs to block out noise.
3. Avoid electronics.
You’ve heard it before and we’ll say it again—turn off your electronic devices before bed. Well before bed. Remember that sleep schedule? It doesn’t include electrical devices before bed or if you’ve woken up and are trying to fall back asleep. Sleep Allies recommends turning off your device 30 minutes prior to bed. There are a few reasons that electronics before bed can be harmful, according The Cleveland Clinic. The first is that your mind cannot rest and is therefore more active and awake when you’re on your phone or watching television. Another reason to ditch the device is because the natural melatonin your body creates—which aids in sleep—is suppressed due to the blue lights on a mobile device. Lastly, REM sleep gets delayed due to the alertness that electronics create. What can you do instead? Read a book, talk with a family member, take a shower or journal.
4. Skip the snacks.
While some light snacks are okay if you’re hungry, others are major no-nos. Heavy snacks and meals, especially those with high levels of acid and sugar, can cause sleep disruption. Another culprit of poor sleep quality? Alcohol. While alcohol is a depressant and has a tendency to make us sleepy, it disrupts our REM cycle leading to more sleep disruptions, according to the Sleep Foundation. In addition, alcohol has the potential to exacerbate sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia.
Exercise can cure a multitude of ailments, one being poor sleep quality. Not only does exercise release extra energy from your body, but it is also a proven stress reducer. In addition, when you workout, your body temperature naturally rises. Several hours later when your body temperature drops, it creates a sense of drowsiness, which supports falling asleep, according to the Sleep Foundation.
6. Don’t force it.
According to the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep, if you are still awake after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Try reading a book, emptying the dishwasher or taking a short walk. But, whatever you do, don’t turn on the TV or grab your mobile device. It might distract you in the short term, but it won’t help your sleep health in the long run. Give yourself a few minutes to burn off some energy and refocus your mind, then try again.
7. Skip the sleep aids.
Sleep aids, whether a prescription drug like Ambien or an OTC drug like melatonin, can help in the short term and seem like an easy fix. However, they don’t fix the root of the problem and can cause drowsiness the next day. Even worse, they are highly addictive and lose efficacy over time, according to the Sleep Foundation.
If poor quality sleep is causing negative impacts during your waking hours and you’ve tried to remedy the problem yourself, talk with your provider. Often times, there can be underlying issues, like medication interaction, that can be the culprit. A good night’s sleep is possible, even without counting sheep.