Challenges to Getting Good Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep can feel like a challenge in our fast paced, stressed-out world. And sleep is a vital function that has profound impacts on physical and mental health. The suggestions below do not address every issue that leads to poor sleep. Please, if your symptoms are severe and persistent, speak to your doctor. There are medical issues that lead to poor sleep and cannot be effectively addressed without testing and/or medical interventions. The types of sleep disruptions this post addresses are those related to environmental, emotional, and mental stressors.
Reasons for Good Sleep
Sleep is important; it’s our brain and body’s time to rest and reset in preparation for the next day. There are multiple reasons why sleep is so important. First, poor sleep leads to higher body weight. Higher body weight increases risk for a variety of other health issues including high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Next, sleep affects glucose metabolism and Type II Diabetes risk. This means that chronic sleep deprivation makes it harder to maintain a healthy body weight and harder to lose weight. Also, poor sleep increases risk for heart attack and stroke. Finally, poor sleep is linked to depression and increased inflammation in the body. The bottom line is when not well rested it is harder to manage stress in normal daily life.
Good sleep helps maximize physical performance and improves concentration at work. Restful sleep improves immune function. Quality sleep positively impacts memory function. A good night’s rest helps improve mood and resilience. Good sleepers tend to eat fewer calories and make healthier food choices. These healthier choices help maintain a healthy body weight, heal from injuries faster, and improve overall performance.
Don’t Settle for Poor Quality Sleep
Many of us know the risks of not getting quality sleep, yet we live with the consequences of poor sleep daily, and we just accept it as a part of life. Whether you value your memory, your physical performance in life or at the gym, your waistline, or your mental health; there are so many reasons to pursue better sleep. The following sleep hygiene strategies were originally developed to help those with insomnia. They also benefit those of us that struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep for other reasons.
The first sleep hygiene tip is, avoid blue light at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Blue light is emitted from TV’s, smartphones, tablets, and computer screens. Most people use these devices to wind down from the day, but in actuality their use prevents the brain from producing its own natural melatonin. Melatonin production is what signals our brain and body that it’s time to sleep. Turn on the blue light filter on your electronic devices if you must be on them close to bedtime to avoid disrupting natural melatonin production and help you fall asleep faster.
Create a Schedule
Next, stick to a regular bedtime every night if possible. I know it isn’t always possible depending on work and social life, but as much as you can keep bedtime consistent. This allows your body to adapt to the predictability of a sleep schedule. Making up for missed sleep is a myth! Naps can be helpful but be aware if you take one how it affects that nights’ sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep and lay tossing and turning, that nap may not be worth it. Instead of giving in to a nap, keep yourself busy throughout the day as best you can. Then you will most likely fall asleep quickly when you lay down for bed. It takes time to create a routine for sleep. Be patient and know that with time and a bit of struggle it will pay off.
Dark and Cool
A third step for good sleep hygiene is keeping your bedroom dark and cool. 65 degrees is the recommended room temperature for the best sleep. Pile on the blankets if needed to warm up. There is little one can do to escape from a room that is too warm. The sound or silence that surrounds the sleep space is equally important. Some people prefer total silence; and others sleep better with white noise. Neither is right or wrong, find what works best for you! Know this though, the television is not white noise! Additionally, that TV in your bedroom emits blue light which is restricting your own melatonin production. I understand that you feel you’ve “adapted” to sleeping with the television on. And please know it is not helping you get a better night’s sleep.
Make sure to avoid stimulants like caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. You may have to play around with exactly the right timing for you to stop caffeine for the day, it can vary from person to person. It may be helpful to stop the late day caffeine and see how you actually sleep without it even if you feel it doesn’t affect you. Sometimes we don’t realize what negatively impacts the quality of our sleep until trying something different.
It is vitally important to avoid alcohol if you want better more restful sleep. Alcohol does not help you sleep better. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster because of its relaxation effect. The issue though is once your body starts to metabolize the alcohol your sleep becomes restless and shallow. Alcohol blocks REM sleep which is part of the normal sleep cycle. REM sleep and deep sleep are key parts of the restorative functions of sleep, and both are disrupted by drinking alcohol. It’s of interest to note that the disruptions in REM and deep sleep occur after only a single drink.
Bedrooms are for Sleep
Finally, bedrooms are only for sleep and intimacy, not work! The bedroom has become a multipurpose room for many. Using the bedroom for work creates unconscious expectations for that space which can actually prevent sound, restful sleep. This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of TVs in bedrooms. Not only does it create disruptions to sleep but it turns the bedroom into a multi-purpose space. I love multitaskers but the bedroom is not a multitasking space!
Don’t Settle for Poor Sleep
Sleep is vital for good mental health and resiliency. Sleep deprivation increases irritability and anger, neither of which are predictors of good mental health. Think of it this way, how well do you cope with stress when you are exhausted? How differently do you cope when you are well rested?
Remember, if your sleep is low in quantity and quality and you are trying all of the above-mentioned strategies with little to no success, please talk to your doctor or health care professional. There are many causes of sleep disruption that may need medical treatment to address and resolve them. Don’t assume there is nothing that can be done to help you. Don’t assume that you just have to live with poor quality sleep. Be your own advocate and reach out for help!