When we fall into a sweet slumber, our bodies get a chance to repair themselves. Our muscles grow from the day before, our immune systems get stronger, and our metabolism balances out. Sleep is an essential part of life. Without the proper amount of it, we cannot retain new memories. We can get irritable, impatient, and are unable to concentrate. A lack of sleep affects the heart, and the development of diseases in the body like cancer. Slumber is as important to a human body as breathing, so why are we never getting enough of it?
Connections in the brain do not function properly when we experience sleep deprivation, this is why learning how to sleep well is important. Making sure you are getting the appropriate amount of restorative rest is essential to maintaining the cognitive function needed to go about your professional and personal life. Here are some tips to put you on your way to the best sleep ever:
Create a Consistent Sleep-Wake Cycle
Syncing up your body to a consistent sleep-wake cycle is the most important thing you can do for better rest. Make sure to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekends). This helps your internal clock regulate and optimizes the quality of sleep you get. By keeping a regular sleeping schedule, your body and mind will feel more energized and refreshed compared to if you slept the same number of hours in a night but at different times.
Choose a time of night when you usually feel tired and aim to go to bed then. If you find yourself laying in bed but not falling asleep, you’re actually just perpetuating a night of insomnia. If you can’t fall asleep or find yourself awake at 1 a.m., get out of bed. Read a book, knit, or indulge in some light stretching for 15 to 30 minutes until you feel drowsy, and then go back to bed. This helps you relax and have a night of healthy rest instead of keeping you in bed wide eyed and sleepless.
Control Your Light
At night, make sure your room is dark. Darkness signals to your brain to make melatonin, the hormone that contributes to sleepiness. Heavy curtains can keep street lights and morning sun from making its way into your bedroom. The blue light glow from your cell phone, television, or tablet can hurt your sleep by disrupting your body’s ability to produce melatonin. Aim to turn off all electronics at least an hour before going to bed.
On the flipside, it’s best to get yourself into a bright light for at least 5 minutes as soon as you get out of bed to wake yourself up and help your body’s wake cycle regulate. Sunlight is best, but even standing in a lit room can help you wake up easier in the morning. Focus on spending more time outside during the day to keep you awake.
Don’t Take Naps
I’ll say it again, don’t take naps. I know, I know, this can be so hard — but you’ll rest better at night, I promise. Napping can feel like a good way of making up for lost sleep, but if you already have a hard time falling and staying asleep at night, taking a nap can make it worse. By napping when the sun is out, you disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall and stay asleep at night.
If you absolutely need to take a nap while it’s daylight, keep it to 20 minutes and under, only napping in the early part of the day. If you get sleepy after dinner, do something mildly stimulating. By getting ready for the next day, cleaning dishes, or taking a shower, you keep yourself awake for the few hours it takes for bedtime to come.
Watch What You Drink
What you put into your body affects your sleeping habits. Having caffeine before you go to bed won’t do your sleep cycle any favors, but you should also watch what you drink in the afternoon. Drinks like soda and peach tea can have hidden caffeine, so always make sure to check the labels on your mid-day indulgences. Aim to stop drinking tea by 2 p.m. and coffee by noon. This leaves enough time for the effects of caffeine to wear off before bedtime.
Drinking alcohol before going to bed can interrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle, so consider giving it up. Alcohol blocks REM sleep which is the most restorative and what you should aim for when you go to bed. By losing out on REM sleep, you run the risk of waking up groggy or in the middle of the night.
Stop the Snoring
Thirty percent of adults are affected by snoring. And while it may seem like a minor problem, snoring can be the cause and effect of some significant sleep issues. In addition to keeping your partner awake, snoring is often a sign of an overall bigger health problem. Conditions like sleep apnea and obesity are just two major concerns contributing to snoring. And if you have sleep apnea, you’re more than likely not getting a good night’s rest.
If you or your partner suffers from snoring, ask a doctor for their opinion. If you want to try some at-home options, consider investing in an anti-snoring device. Available solutions range from special pillows, to snoring mouth pieces, to snoring exercises. Finding the right aide for you or your partner can help you both get back to a more restful sleep.
Getting the best sleep starts before you actually lay your head down at night. Exercise helps you sleep better, but only if it’s not too close to bedtime. Studies show people who engaged in aerobic exercise four times a week showed an improved quality of sleep with higher energy levels during the day. That’s because working out can help increase the amount of time you spend in deep restorative stages of sleep.
Aim for workouts that end 3 to 4 hours before bedtime. A post-workout energy high can keep you awake and raise your core body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep. If the only time you have to workout is before bed, try a calming exercise like yoga to relax the mind and work the body.
When you go to bed, make sure to get comfortable before committing to sleep. There is nothing worse than tossing and turning trying to catch some Zs. Make your bedroom comfortable for you. Use a diffuser with essential oils to help drift you off to sleep. Grab soft blankets and extra pillows, or kick off the covers to keep yourself cool.
If you suffer from lower back pain, put a pillow between your legs to align your hips and reduce the stress on your back. If you suffer from neck pain, make sure you have the proper pillow. It should be able to support the natural curve of your neck when you are laying on your back. By making more comfortable adjustments to your sleeping position, you’re sure to have a restorative night’s rest.
If you are not getting the proper amount of restorative, deep sleep, you are unable to function properly in your waking life. Whether you have chronic insomnia or suffer from a night or two of sleeplessness, by focusing on these seven aspects of sleep you can have your best night of rest ever.