Over the past few decades, both sleep quality and quantity have declined. In fact, many people regularly get poor sleep.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult sleeps less than seven hours per night. In today’s fast-paced society, six or seven hours of sleep may sound pretty good. In reality, though, it’s a recipe for chronic sleep deprivation.
Just because we are able to operate on six or seven hours of sleep doesn’t mean we wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if we spent an extra hour or two in bed.
Beyond making us tired and moody, poor sleep has immediate negative effects on our hormones, exercise performance, and brain function, and over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on mental and physical health, increasing our propensity for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Have you ever noticed how when you’re short on sleep you crave sugary foods that give you a quick energy boost? Well, there’s a good reason for that. Sleep deprivation has a direct link to overeating and weight gain.
If you give yourself plenty of time for sleep but still have trouble waking up in the morning or staying alert all day, you may not be getting good quality sleep.
Although insomnia is the most common sleep complaint, it is not a single sleep disorder. It’s more accurate to think of insomnia as a symptom of another problem. The problem causing the insomnia differs from person to person. It could be something as simple as drinking too much caffeine during the day or a more complex issue like an underlying medical condition or feeling overloaded with stress or responsibilities.
Restless nights and weary mornings can become more frequent as we get older and our sleep patterns change. Many of us occasionally experience difficulties sleeping and it’s usually due to stress, travel, illness, or other temporary interruptions to your normal routine. However, if you regularly have problems getting to sleep at night, wake up feeling exhausted, or feel sleepy during the day, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder.
But, because different people need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping, not the number of hours you sleep or how quickly you doze off. Even if you’re spending eight hours a night in bed, if you feel drowsy and fatigued during the day, you may be experiencing insomnia.
Some people struggle to get to sleep no matter how tired they are. Others wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for hours, anxiously watching the clock. A sleep disorder is a condition that frequently impacts your ability to get enough quality sleep. It’s not just the number of hours you spend asleep that’s important, it’s the quality of those hours.
Just as the way you feel during your waking hours often hinges on how well you sleep at night, so the cure for sleep difficulties can often be found in your daily routine.
Stop loading up on caffeine or sneaking in naps and use our top tips to help get the shut-eye you need to manage your health.
Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset. Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid long-term sleep quality.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is a must if you want to get on a good sleep schedule and train yourself to wake up early. Figure out how much sleep you need — seven to nine hours per night is recommended — and aim to go to bed early enough so you wake up feeling refreshed.
Sticking to your sleep schedule every day, including your days off, will help establish your internal sleep/wake clock and will reduce the amount of tossing and turning required to fall asleep.
You may be sabotaging your efforts to get up early without even realizing it. Drinking caffeine in the later part of the day and using devices that emit blue light before bed can prevent you from falling asleep.
Avoid activities that’ve been shown to interfere with your circadian rhythm and cause sleeplessness, including:
While short power naps are beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep. Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock, meaning that you may struggle to sleep at night
To improve your bedtime routine, try doing something relaxing before bed. Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia. Strategies include listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing, and visualization.
The bedroom environment and its setup are key factors in getting a good night’s sleep.
Body and bedroom temperature can also profoundly affect sleep quality. As you may have experienced during the summer or in hot locations, it can be very hard to get a good night’s sleep when it’s too warm.
Eighty degrees may be great for the beach, but it’s lousy for the bedroom at night. Around 70°F (20°C) seems to be a comfortable temperature for most people, although it depends on your preferences and habits. Striking a balance between the thermostat, the bed covers, and your sleeping attire will reduce your core body temperature and help you drift off to sleep faster and more deeply.
To optimize your bedroom environment, try to minimize external noise, light, and artificial lights from devices like alarm clocks. Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, relaxing, clean, and enjoyable place.
Get yourself a comfortable bed, mattres and pillows. Don't overlook this point. Apart from a relaxing environment, bed quality can also affect sleep. If you haven't replaced your mattress or bedding for several years, this can be a very effective fix.
Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. It affects your brain, body, and hormones, helping you stay awake and telling your body when it’s time to sleep.
Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration.
If you get some sun first thing in the morning, it can help boost your mood and energy levels for the rest of the day. Try opening your blinds as soon as you get up, having your coffee outside, or going for a short walk.
Exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health. It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia.
Although daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems. This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline. Just be sure to wrap up your workout session several hours before bedtime so that you’re not too revved up to get a good night’s sleep.
Cut out the food and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate, by mid-afternoon. Skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion.
Make dinner your lightest meal, and finish it a few hours before bedtime. A grumbling stomach can be distracting enough to keep you awake, but so can an overly full belly.
Avoid eating a big meal within two to three hours of bedtime. If you're hungry right before bed, eat a small healthy snack (such as an apple with a slice of cheese or a few whole-wheat crackers) to satisfy you until breakfast.
Although hydration is vital for your health, it’s wise to reduce your fluid intake in the late evening. Try to not drink any fluids 1–2 hours before going to bed.
You should also use the bathroom right before going to bed, as this may decrease your chances of waking in the night.
If you've been having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may have turned to sleep medications in search of more restful slumber. However, these drugs can have side effects—including appetite changes, dizziness, drowsiness, abdominal discomfort, dry mouth, headaches, and strange dreams.
A recent study in the British Medical Journal associated several hypnotic sleep aids, including zolpidem (Ambien) and temazepam (Restoril), with a possible increased risk of death (although it couldn't confirm how much of the risk was related to these drugs).
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