Sleep is essential for optimal health. The healing, restorative sleep state has far-reaching effects on the body. Many people underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep—but they shouldn’t. While healthy, consistent sleeping patterns have been shown to contribute to overall health, inconsistent sleeping patterns and lack of sleep can increase your chances of depression and high blood pressure. Poor sleep has also been linked to a lower quality of life.
It is estimated that more than 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and waking up in the wee hours of the morning well before that alarm clock starts buzzing (these episodes are known as early morning awakenings). In its chronic state, insomnia can lead to more than just fatigue. This debilitating condition may also trigger the following symptoms:
- Problems with memory
- Changes in mood
- Greater likelihood of making errors or having accidents
- Difficult staying awake during the day
- Low energy levels
Whether you’re suffering from a brief bout of insomnia or experiencing more severe chronic symptoms (those which occur three times per week for three months or more), it’s safe to bet that you want to put a stop to your misery and fast. Check out these three sleep hygiene tips to increase your odds of getting a more restful sleep tonight:
1. Create a relaxing ritual before bedtime
In an effort to get stuff done for the next day, many of us are guilty of engaging in activities that can cause stress, excitement, or anxiety just an hour or two before bedtime. Activities, like paying bills, planning a family vacation, or emailing your lawyer can all take a toll on your emotional well-being. Even fun activities like vacation planning can quickly become stressful when you start to factor in the financial burden, jet lag, and your family members’ different interests and priorities for the trip. Try to table activities that cause stress for the mornings, the afternoons, or the weekends.
Make nighttime a time where you can focus on yourself. It can be helpful to create a relaxing ritual that you can incorporate into your routine. For instance, you might soak your feet in a foot bath for 15 minutes after you put the kids to sleep every evening, adding your favorite essential oil to deepen your body’s relaxation response. If that doesn’t sound like you, try reading 10–15 pages in a book that transports you to another world before hitting the hay. Getting out of your head as much as possible can be incredibly beneficial in promoting a healthy night’s sleep. Let worries about your job, financial pressures, and family issues fall by the wayside in the evenings. Remember, this is the only shot you have each day to rejuvenate your body, mind, and soul, so take advantage of this sacred time.
2. Dim the Lights
It’s important to stay away from bright lights, especially fluorescents, in the hours before you fall asleep. If your house needs a lighting makeover, think about visiting the hardware store to invest in softer, warmer bulbs for your household fixtures. Another thing that you may find helpful is purchasing a Himalayan salt lamp for your bedroom or living room. These lamps have a warm, therapeutic glow and are known for expelling negative ions in the air.
Steer clear of smartphones, tablets, video games, and yes—even TV—at least one hour before bed. The white, bright light that emanates from most types of screens has been shown to activate the brain—the last thing you want when sleep is your number one goal.
3. Start and End Your Day at the Same Times
For decades, sleep experts have stressed the importance of getting up and going to bed at the same times every day. And unfortunately, every day means weekends and holidays. For many people, this particular sleep hygiene pattern can seem very unrealistic; each day is different, after all, and there’s no telling what the duties of the day may bring. Rest assured that even small changes in keeping your sleep schedule consistent can make a big difference in getting more restful sleep. You don’t necessarily need to be a stickler to this rule, waking at 7:00 AM and going to be at 9:00 PM every night. But it is a good idea to wake up and go to bed within 30 minutes to one hour of what you did the morning and evening before (and the morning and evening before that).
Sticking to a sleep schedule that works for you can regulate your body’s internal clock, helping your body to determine its natural circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake schedule). Your circadian rhythm helps your body process feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. Because your rhythm is controlled by the natural pattern of daytime sunshine and nighttime darkness, it’s crucial to modify your sleeping patterns so that you wake up with the sun and go to bed with the moon (as closely as possible, that is).
Some Final Words About Sleep and Health
Although every body has different needs, The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get seven to nine hours of shut-eye every night. If you’re not getting this amount of sleep on a regular basis, it might be time to have a conversation with your doctor. Recent animal studies suggest the simple act of sleep has the ability to clean out toxins in your brain. Researchers determined that while mice sleep, the space between their brain cells expand, allowing their bodies to flush out harmful toxins from the deep crevices of their brains. And while more research is needed, studies like these provide hope that diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s may be prevented or mitigated by adjusting one’s sleep patterns.
In addition to this groundbreaking finding, lack of sleep has also been linked to weight gain. In fact, adults who sleep less than five to six hours a night are much more likely to be overweight than adults who get between seven and nine hours. Another thing to consider is that staying up late causes you to eat more—especially more carbohydrates and fats. Researchers found that eaters who are sleep-deprived eat way more calories after dinnertime than eaters who are well-rested.
If you try out some of the sleep hygiene habits listed above and they don’t work for you right off the bat, do not get discouraged. Try them again the following evening and see if you notice any improvements. It can be helpful to keep track of your sleep using a sleep journal. Using this tool, you can jot down your bedtime, wake-up time, and overall quality of sleep to determine which habits work for you and which ones do not.
If you feel like you’ve tried it all only to feel like a zombie 99 percent of the time, you may need to talk to your doctor about participating in a sleep study or using sleeping medication for a short time to better manage your insomnia. Experiencing difficulty sleeping is a legitimate and dangerous health concern. Not only can it affect your mood, memory, and level of alertness on a day-to-day basis, it can also make a lasting impact on your long-term health, contributing to weight gain and brain toxicity, both of which can lead to chronic health conditions, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and dementia. Nip the problem in the bud now. A good place to start? Well the answer is simple: create a relaxing ritual before bedtime, dim the lights, and make every effort to start and end your days at the same time.
1. National Sleep Foundation. Healthy sleep tips. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips. Accessed January 16, 2018.
2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Insomnia awareness day: Facts and stats. http://www.sleepeducation.org/news/2014/03/10/insomnia-awareness-day-facts-and-stats. Updated March 2014. Accessed January 16, 2018.
3. The New York Times. How to get a better night’s sleep. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/how-to-sleep. Accessed January 18, 2018.