There is no denying the value of a good night’s sleep. When you are well rested you immediately feel the difference as soon as you wake up. There is an immediate surge of energy that only comes from restful, adequate sleep. You might also be able to instantly see the effects when you look in the mirror. We all know that sleep is important, we all know that it affects how we feel, look and act. However, the current culture of always being on the go, with too many obligations and too much stress, is taking its toll on the quality of sleep that many of us are getting. While an occasional restless night isn’t likely to carry any long term consequence, chronic poor sleep habits can be bad for both your health and your quality of life. It is time to take back control of your health and wellness by learning how to improve your chances of getting better, higher quality sleep.
While you sleep your body is hard at work using those hours to take care of serious business. Your body needs a restful period so that it can recover from the day’s activities, strengthen your immune system, repair cellular damage and refuel your cardiovascular system so that is prepared for another day of keeping you alive. This all occurs during two repetitive sleep cycles called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).
REM sleep accounts for about twenty percent of the time you are sleeping. This is the time dreams occur and also the time when the brain is sorting out everything you have learned and any stressful situations that you might have encountered during the day. Have you ever awoken mid dream and felt like you were walking around in fog for some time afterwards? When you are in REM sleep your brain is so active that it is actually using more oxygen and energy than during waking hours. Waking at this point can be a jarring experience from both a mental and physical perspective.
The rest of the time that you sleep is spent in the NREM cycle. This is the dream-free part of the sleep cycle where your breathing and respiration slow down and your body is relatively still. This is the cycle in which cellular repair, tissue growth and energy restoration occur. Unfortunately, this is also the part of the sleep cycle that you are most vulnerable to stimuli that can affect your sleep. Each time you wake up during NREM sleep, your body is losing precious opportunities for repair and growth.
Most adults need somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to feel truly rested and healthy. Your needs may vary depending on individual circumstances, however if you are getting less than six to seven hours of sleep a night, you might be seriously risking your health, beauty and emotional wellness. How do you know if you are getting enough sleep each night? Here are a few signs of poor sleep habits and sleep deprivation.
- Your body doesn’t have a natural alarm clock, especially if you have a regular routine.
- You habitually use the snooze button.
- It takes you a long time to gather the energy and the motivation to get out of bed.
- Feel the need to nap, or have periods of extreme fatigue, throughout the day.
- Your energy level plummets at the same time every afternoon.
- You have difficulty staying awake it certain situations such as watching movies, attending meetings, going to class, or being in a warm room.
- Daily activities such as eating or driving are triggers that automatically make you feel tired.
- Your days off are always spent sleeping in.
Does that sound like you? To be honest, I think that many people can relate to experiencing a few of those symptoms from time to time. Most of us experience periods of restless sleep or mild insomnia at certain points of our lives. This change in sleep patterns can be brought on by certain changes such as a new job, moving or changes in family dynamics. Factors such as stress and health concerns can also affect your sleep patterns. If you are finding that you just aren’t getting the sleep that you need, it is important to begin taking steps to increase the duration and quality of the sleep that you do get. Here is just a brief list of negative effects that can be caused by lack of sleep.
- When you are tired, you are a danger to yourself and others. Sleep loss is a major contributor to work related injuries, accidents around the home and increasing your risk of serious accidents while driving.
- Lack of sleep is bad for your marriage or other personal relationships. Being tired dampens your ability to react appropriately in stressful situations, makes you cranky and reduces your libido.
- Sleepless nights can lead to depression. People who regularly got in less than six hours of sleep a night are at a greater risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Not getting enough sleep will age your skin. Collagen is an important part of the underlying support matrix of your skin. Although collagen production decreases naturally as we age, when you lack adequate sleep your body releases an abundance of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol has been shown to damage collagen structures and prematurely age your skin.
- Less quality sleep may have a causative relationship with premature mortality. A study conducted in 2007 showed that getting five or less hours of sleep per night doubles your risk of mortality from all causes. The scope of this is obviously large, however deaths from cardiac disease and fatigue related accidents top the list.
- Shortchanging yourself in the sleep department can make you more vulnerable to cardiac disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and diabetes.
It’s clear that not getting enough sleep on a regular basis comes with serious consequences. However, we all know that when you are in the midst of a sleepless cycle, it feels as nothing can help you get successfully back onto the path of restful, restorative sleep. If your sleep issues are chronic and longstanding, it is always best to seek the advice of your health care provider, who can assess your situation, look for possible causes and offer solutions that might work for your individual situation. If you have already spoken to your doctor and are looking for additional ways to help yourself get a good night’s sleep, or you are going through a temporary sleepless cycle and are interested in some gentle, natural techniques for regulating your sleep patterns, the following tips can help you sleep longer, sleep better and sleep healthier.
- You might just need a routine. Have you noticed that people in general are more productive and in better moods when they have some sort of predictable routine to depend on? This is because it is human nature to prefer structure over chaos. Even those of us who claim to thrive on unpredictability still need some level of stability in our lives. Your body is no different. It thrives on routines, including a set schedule of when to sleep. Try going to bed and waking at the same time every day. If you need a midday nap, try taking it around the same point in the afternoon every day. This might take some effort to train your body, but if you are consistent it will work. Go to bed, even if you are not tired, and stay there for at least fifteen minutes. If, at that point you are not tired, get up and do something that is low key and relaxing until you begin to feel tired.
- Along with your routine, add in rituals that signal to your body that it is time to begin slowing down for the day. This might be some evening mediation, a cup of tea, reading, dimming the lights, or taking a warm bath, perhaps scented with chamomile or lavender.
- Don’t take naps within six hours of your bedtime. You might be exhausted after work and just want to rest your eyes for twenty minutes, but even that short amount of sleep can be enough to reset your natural body clock and keep you up past your bedtime.
- Get physical. Regular, physical exercise can promote healthy sleep habits. Just make sure that you don’t exercise too close to your bedtime, otherwise you might end up wide awake when you should be getting restorative sleep.
- Think about redecorating. Do you have an area to sleep that actually makes you feel relaxed and comfortable? If not, it is time to consider changing it up. Your mattress should be comfortable and supportive. You should have adequate ventilation and the ability to control the temperature of the room. Keep several layers of blanketing on your bed so that you have the right amount of coverings available to keep you comfortable without having to get up and search for a lighter or heavier blanket.
- Turn it off. Starting at least one hour before you are ready to go to bed, you should turn off the television and any other tech devices, including your phone. Not only do these things stimulate your mind and keep you awake, the light that they emit can interfere with your body’s natural sleep rhythms.
- Your diet might be the culprit. Heavy or greasy foods take longer to digest and can cause your body to resist your attempts at resting. Also, limit caffeine to earlier hours only.
- Turn your clock around. Are you someone that wakes frequently at night, looks at the clock and then gets worked up about how the opportunity for a good night’s sleep is quickly escaping you? Simply turn your clock around and put it on the other side of the room so that you cannot easily grab it and check the time. The same goes for your phone if you normally keep it near your bed.
- If you have a hard time waking in the morning, seek out bright light. This might be the last thing you want to do if you haven’t gotten good sleep, however the bright light will help to reset your natural body clock, meaning that you might actually be tired enough to fall asleep at a decent hour come evening. Open the curtains, step outside or as a last resort, turn on all the bright lighting in your home.
- Rethink the evening cocktail. Studies show that there is no harm in having a nightly cocktail or glass of wine, and in some cases there might even be health benefits. However, the relaxing effects of that drink are likely to wear off around bedtime or when you are already under the covers and as this happens you become more prone to wakefulness and sleep disturbances. If you want to enjoy a drink, make sure that it is earlier in the evening and stick to only one.
- Who are you sharing your bed with? Studies show that people who share their bed space with pets get less quality sleep than those who don’t. If you can’t imagine kicking Fido to the floor, consider having your pet sleep only at the foot of the bed rather than next to, or on top of you.
- Keep a sleep log. As you make these changes, take note of them and also write down things like what time you woke up, how you felt upon waking, exercise, foods eaten, emotional stressors and anything else that you feel might impact your sleep patterns. Sometimes it is the littlest of details that make the largest difference.
Getting regular, restful sleep is one of the best things that you can do for your body and your spirit. Hectic lives and overburdened schedules can make this difficult, but there are ways that you can get more quality sleep regardless of everything else in your life. Possibly the most important thing to remember is that if you are not rested you cannot possibly be at your best for yourself or anyone else. Give yourself permission to be the priority and make quality sleep a number one goal on your list. A rested body is a healthy and beautiful body.