Sleep is something we all know we need, but often don’t get enough of. For many of us, waking up and consistently feeling well-rested just isn’t the norm. For years, sleep was thought of as a period of time where our minds and bodies shut down. In fact, sleep is a pretty active period where our bodies perform some incredibly critical functions including processing, restoration, and strengthening.
So, what is so important about sleep exactly?
Through research, doctors and scientists have discovered that in the different stages of sleep (REM, light, and deep sleep) our body performs different and unique processes, each one vitally important to our health and well-being. Getting good quality sleep is crucial for our bodies to function optimally.
As we go about our day, our brains take in an incredible amount of information. It may seem like all this information is being recorded, however, until we sleep, none of that info is being processed and stored. Cycling through the different stages of sleep allows all the information we’ve absorbed to get transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term memory – a process called “Consolidation.” The better we sleep, the better our memory, especially as we age. Our bodies usually cycle from light sleep to deep sleep, back to light, and then into REM (dreaming). During light sleep, our muscles relax and our heart rate and breathing slow down, allowing our bodies and minds the ability to begin the rejuvenation process.
Sleep is also crucial for physical recovery. The longer and deeper we rest, the better we are able to restore and rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.
So, how much sleep do we really need? According to the most up-to-date research, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. That’s 7-9 hours of quality ‘hitting all stages of your sleep cycle’ slumber time. Younger people need quality sleep for optimal development and alertness, while adults benefit from deep mental and physical repair and rejuvenation.
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is a very common occurrence for adults. It’d be nice if we could make up for all the “sleep debt” with one 12-hour night’s sleep, and one good night’s sleep isn’t without its benefits. But, the only truly healthy way to benefit from sleep is to develop consistent sleep habits.
The best way to get into a healthy sleep routine, like anything else, is to make a couple of small changes and do them consistently, at the same time every day, until it turns into a habit. Here are some helpful and proven tips for getting into a better sleep routine.
1. Develop a Sleep Schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time each day – even on weekends. You’re allowed a trial period, where you determine the bedtime and wake up time that works best for your body’s natural rhythm. Once you set your bedtime, stick to it, and try not to hit the snooze button in the morning.
2. Watch What You Eat & Drink
Avoid large meals before bedtime. Try having dinner earlier – this is usually best accomplished by also having breakfast and lunch earlier, so your hunger hormones are right on track. Try to avoid rich foods within two hours of bed. If you need a snack, snack light. The harder your stomach has to work to digest, the more energy you’re using, and the harder it is to rest.
3. Don’t Drink Alcohol Close to Bedtime.
Though you may think alcohol will help you fall asleep faster, it can lead to poorer quality of sleep. Alcohol disrupts the rhythm of our sleep cycle, causing us to ultimately spend more time awake throughout the night than we would without it.
4. Cut Out Caffeine.
The effects of caffeine may not wear off until up to 12 hours after consumption. If you have sleep problems, consider cutting back on afternoon caffeine or cutting it out altogether. A good rule of thumb is to not have caffeine after 12pm.
5. Get Regular Exercise.
Daily exercise has a handful of benefits, including reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, and restlessness, which consequently, positively affects our sleep! The less anxious we feel before bed, the less likely we are to suffer from insomnia. Because of the physical benefits of exercise, we’re also more likely to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
6. Quit Smoking.
If you are a smoker, you already know the reasons to quit are endless. What you may not have considered as heavily, are the chronic sleep troubles. Nicotine works as a stimulant, disrupting your ability to sleep and causing withdrawal throughout the night.
7. Turn Off Electronics at Night.
Watching television or using a computer is a common way to unwind at the end of the day, but it can have negative effects on your ability to fall asleep. Studies show that the artificial, blue light emitted from electronics suppresses melatonin production and stimulates the mind. Instead, try reading a book or journaling.
8. Get Natural Light During the Day.
Natural light helps your internal clock maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle. It also helps regulate our moods. When you first wake up, open your blinds to let in the morning light and help you feel ready to take on the day. Try to also take breaks throughout the day, and step outside – the fresh air is good for us and our bodies need vitamin D.
9. Manage Stress Levels.
Stress and anxiety are known to be disruptive to sleep. Try to practice healthy ways of managing your stress like exercising, meditating, and making lists to help you stay organized. The food we eat also plays a hand in helping us manage stress through the stress hormone, cortisol. Make sure you’re eating healthy meals to help regulate your hormones and reduce irritability.
10. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment.
Creating a dark, quiet, and cool sleeping environment can promote better sleep. You may also want to take into consideration the ergonomics of your bed. A supportive mattress and pillow, based on your body’s needs, can be a complete game-changer and is worth the investment. “White noise” machines, such as fans and humidifiers are also helpful for some people.