Sleep is an important part of physical wellness and mental health. Indeed, numerous studies have looked at the importance of sleep, and suggest that sleep is a vital part of health — and that there are very real consequences attached to a lack of proper sleep. Some of the problems that can arise from a lack of sleep include:
- Reduced immune system performance
- Impaired memory and concentration
- Heightened irritability
- Increase in your risk of accidents at home and on the road
- Difficulty in maintaining a healthy weight
As you might imagine, one or two nights of poor sleep probably won’t ruin your life. However, lack of sleep can add up to a sleep deficit that can turn into a real problem, affecting your physical, mental and emotional health, and even affecting your happiness. Most adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, depending on their individual needs. Below are some ideas for helping you achieve better quality sleep:
1. Consider your sleep environment
Think about your room and your bed. Are there some things about it that impair your ability to sleep? Try to make your room a relaxing environment, conducive to sleep. This includes making your room a relatively quiet place, and keeping the room dark during sleeping hours. You can use a fan or soft, soothing sound recording to cancel out jarring noise that can keep you awake. Also consider room temperature and proper ventilation. Try and make your bed a place mainly for sleep and sex. Watching TV in bed can be an issue, and in many cases, people find they get better quality sleep without a television in the bedroom.
For your bed, consider whether you have enough room for comfort. Experiment with mattress toppers, different types of pillows, and different blankets, comforters and sheets to find a comfortable combination that allows you to sleep deeply, without being awakened by discomfort.
2. Relax during the day
Relaxation during the day can help you sleep better at night. It is especially important to relax before bed. Create a routine that helps you get ready for sleeping. This can include watching TV that doesn’t stimulate your thoughts too much, reading a light book, listening to soft music, having a light and warm snack (tea, milk, etc.), getting things ready for the next day or meditating.
Some people find that relaxation during the day, such as taking a 20 minute nap, half an hour to read, or 15 minutes of meditation can help them sleep better at night. Activities that help you de-stress during the day, keeping your overall anxiety level down, can help you at bedtime, since you won’t have as much built up tension in your body. If you do take a nap, keep it shorter than 30 minutes, and try not to do it less than five hours before you plan to go to bed.
3. Physical activity during the day
Part of making sure that your body is properly tired, and ready to experience quality sleep, is engaging in physical activity during the day. Vigorous exercise not only helps your overall health, but it can also encourage better sleep at night. Finish exercising at least three hours before you go to bed, though, to give your body time to wind down. You can simple stretching exercises or yoga an hour before bed, as part of your bedtime routine, as long as you don’t raise your body temperature. If you don’t have a 20 to 30 minute chunk of time for exercise at once, break up your activity into five to 10 minute periods. Exercise can relieve stress throughout the day, as well as ensure you are tired enough to sleep well.
4. Balanced diet
What you eat — and when you eat it — can affect how well you sleep at night. Try to avoid big meals within two hours of bedtime, and stay away from stimulants. Realize that caffeine can stay in your body for up to 14 hours, and that a diet high in caffeine can disrupt your sleep. A diet with lots of refined sugar and fatty foods can also affect your sleep, creating conditions in which your body does not deal well with what is inside of it, upsetting your sleep patterns. Some suggestions for bedtime snacks include a banana, hot tea, small bowl of whole grain cereal, half a turkey sandwich, half a peanut butter sandwich, or warm milk.
Other considerations for a good night’s sleep
Additional tips that can help you increase the quality of sleep you receive at night include:
- Have a set bedtime and a set waketime. Try to keep this schedule as much as possible so your body falls into expected patterns of sleep.
- Be careful about sleep aids. If used too much, or incorrectly, they can actually reduce the quality of your sleep.
- If you do wake up at night, try not to stress about it. Get comfortable again, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Concentrate on your breathing. This near-meditation can help you fall asleep. Even if you don’t fall asleep, the relaxation exercise can be of better benefit than fretting about your sleep.
- Stay away from liquids after 8 p.m. to reduce the chance that you will be up to use the bathroom in the middle of your sleep cycle.
- Don’t just keep the lights low in your room before bed; try to keep lights throughout the house dim a couple of hours before bed to cue your body that bedtime is coming.
If you still have trouble getting quality sleep, your physician or a local sleep center can help you pinpoint whether or not you have a more serious problem that is keeping you from getting the rest that you need.