A better night’s sleep is something many people struggle to achieve. The quality of our sleep can be affected by many factors, so it’s easy to see why many of us wake up in the morning feeling unrested and struggling to function. Poor quality sleep can make us feel irritated and tired when we wake up, which will have a negative effect on our behavior for the rest of the day. Therefore, it is incredibly important to do your best to optimize your length and quality of sleep.
Why is Good Quality Sleep So Important?
Sleep is vital for both your physical and emotional health and well-being. While you sleep, your brain processes and stores away the information from your day. It is also preparing itself for working just as hard the following day, processing everything you see, touch, smell, hear, think and feel. A lack of quality sleep will greatly affect your brain’s ability to carry out these tasks effectively.
Sleep, Mental Health and Wellbeing
Studies have shown that getting a good night’s sleep can significantly affect your ability to learn, since sleep helps us pay attention and absorb new information. This is part of the reason that there is ongoing concern over children getting enough sleep. If children are tired and unable to concentrate, they will not learn effectively. Other studies have found that children and teenagers who lack quality sleep may suffer from extreme mood swings, anger control issues, and lack of motivation.
Some studies have also shown that sleep deficiency causes activity changes in parts of the brain. People who lack a good amount of high quality sleep suffer from fluctuating moods and high stress, and have difficulty controlling their emotions. Other research has linked sleep deprivation to depression, risk-taking, and even suicide.
Sleep, Physical Health and Wellbeing
Sufficient high-quality sleep is also vital for our physical health. While we sleep, our bodies repair physical damage, which is why some patients are put into induced comas to help them recover from serious injuries or illnesses. Sleep also affects how our bodies handle their day-to-day functions. For example, sleep deficiency can result in higher than normal levels of blood sugar, which increases the risk of developing diabetes. It can also affect our immune systems. People who do not regularly get high quality sleep often find they are prone to infections since their immune systems are compromised.
Healthy growth and development are also affected by sleep quality. Deep sleep releases the hormone that promotes growth in children and teenagers. Sleep quality is especially important during the teenage years when puberty can make hormones fluctuate drastically; good sleep can help regulate these ups and downs.
In recent years, sleep has been linked to successful weight loss. When we get an optimum amount of sleep, our metabolism is better regulated, which makes it more efficient. People who are sleep-deprived are also known to have more unhealthy food cravings, often seeking sugar and other energy-dense high-carbohydrate foods.
The Dangers of Sleep Deficiency
Sleep deficiency can be extremely dangerous. A lack of sleep can impair your judgment, leading to rash and unsafe decisions. When driving while sleep-deprived, people often have problems judging the speed of other cars, reacting quickly, and being attentive. In fact, sleep deficiency has played a big part in a number of driving, aviation, and shipping accidents. It can be a huge concern for many people in a range of different professions. From bus drivers to doctors to mechanics, human errors caused by sleep deprivation can be fatal. One study has shown that sleep deficiency is just as dangerous, if not more so, than driving over the legal alcohol limit. In the UK, driving while tired is responsible for around 1,500 deaths per year.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Sleep requirements can vary from person to person, and it is possible to get used to less sleep over time. However, it is recommended that most healthy adults get at least eight hours per night in order to have optimal physical and mental health. For people with children or busy schedules, eight hours a night may seem unattainable. If you find you cannot consistently get the amount of sleep you want, there are still plenty of things you can do to ensure that the quality of the sleep you get is very high.
10 Steps to a Better Night’s Sleep
Strategic planning is the best way to get a night of good quality sleep. Learning to identify and avoid barriers to sleep and using a variety of healthy sleep-promotion techniques are far better than any sleeping pill a doctor could prescribe you. However, each of us is unique—what works for me may not work for you. Experimentation is the key to finding out what will ensure you get consistent, quality sleep.
1. Establish a Sleep Schedule
Establishing a routine is the best way to get your body to recognize when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, regardless of whether it is a weekend or not. If you can’t fall asleep within fifteen minutes, try a quiet activity like reading and go back to bed when you feel tired. If you try to force yourself to sleep when you are not ready, you may fall asleep feeling stressed, and your quality of sleep may suffer.
2. Avoid Certain Food and Drink Before Bedtime
Balancing your gut before bed is another way to promote sleep. If you eat a lot before falling asleep, your digestive system may keep you awake. This is particularly true if you suffer from IBS or heartburn. Similarly, if you have not had enough to eat, your hunger may keep you awake. Limiting drinks in the few hours before sleep may also help to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.
If you find you are hungry before bed, a good choice is cheese and crackers. Contrary to popular belief, cheese before bed will not cause you to have nightmares. Cheese and crackers will provide you with carbohydrates and amino acids, the combination of which boosts serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other good food choices include fruit, low fat yogurt, whole grain cereal with fat-free milk, or some peanut butter on toast. Eat at least an hour before going to bed to give the serotonin time to reach the brain!
3. Incorporate Some Sleep-Friendly Scents Into Your Bedroom
Certain scents, such as ylang-ylang and lavender, may help you feel calm and relaxed. Don’t buy commercial products; instead, add a few drops of essential oils to a spritzer bottle of water and spray onto your pillow and bedding. Check out our Essential Oils Guide for more information on sleep-promoting oils.
4. Cut Out The Stimulants!
Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine are all stimulants that may affect your ability to fall asleep. The effects of these stimulants can last for several hours, causing significant detrimental effects to our sleep. Heavy smokers can experience withdrawal symptoms through the night. Research has shown that smokers are four times as likely to wake up feeling unrested. Smoking is also responsible for a number of respiratory conditions, such as sleep apnea, that may also keep you awake at night. Caffeine has been shown to stay in our system for up to 8 hours, so you may want to avoid that post-dinner coffee or tea. Instead, try some warm milk sprinkled with cinnamon for a lovely sleep-promoting beverage.
5. Check Your Medications
Certain medications can have a detrimental effect on our sleep patterns. For example, beta-blockers and some antidepressants are notorious for causing insomnia. Check with your doctor to see if any of your medications might be affecting your sleep. If so, ask if you should take your medication at a different time of the day or look into other alternatives.
6. Incorporate Regular Physical Activity
Incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine is recommended to promote better sleep. It is important, however, to remember that exercise also releases endorphins. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you may be too energized to fall asleep. Try exercising in the morning to start your day with energy and high metabolism.
7. Create a Bedtime Routine
We all know how important bedtime routines are for children. Unfortunately, by the time we reach adulthood, we have abandoned our routines and consistency. By doing the same things every night before going to sleep, we can help our bodies recognize that it is time to start shutting down. Relaxing activities such as reading, listening to music, or taking a warm bath can all promote sleep. Don’t be tempted to use your computer or phone before going to bed; the harsh blue light from electronics will interfere with your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm.
8. Don’t Nap in the Daytime
Daytime naps can interfere with quality nighttime sleep. If you desperately need a nap during the day, try to limit it to thirty minutes in the middle of the afternoon. If you are a night-time worker, you obviously have to sleep during the day. Since you are on a reverse schedule, you should do all you can to optimize your sleeping conditions. It is essential that you sleep in a room that is as quiet and dark as possible to ensure minimal disruption to your sleep.
9. Love Your Sleep Environment
Wherever you sleep, make sure the environment is a relaxing one. For most people, this means slightly cooler than other living areas, dark, and quiet. Keeping your room clean and tidy, as well as having comfortable bedding, will also help you to relax and feel calm. Open your windows daily to allow fresh air to circulate.
1o. Manage your stress
Stress can be a major contributor to sleepless nights. You may sometimes find you have so much on your mind that you find it impossible to fall or stay asleep. Managing stress as effectively as possible during the day will hugely benefit your nighttime sleep. If you are still stressed or worried before bed, some people recommend that you write your fears down and visualize them leaving your body. You can then put them aside to be dealt with the next day.
Bonus Tip: Keep a sleep diary
Keeping a sleep diary can help you pinpoint anything that may be causing sleep disruptions. Write down how you feel when you go to bed, any exercise you did that day, and anything else that you think may affect how well you sleep. Good examples of a sleep diary can be found at www.sleepdoctor.com.
Know When to Visit Your Doctor
If none of these methods improve your sleep, we highly advocate contacting your doctor to discuss your insomnia.
As we have explored in this article, it is vitally important to our well-being to get a decent amount of good quality sleep every night. Experiment with the methods suggested in this guide to see if any of them can improve your sleep. If you still have persistent fatigue and insomnia, please contact your doctor for further advice.