Sleep is now-a-days considered a luxury. But if we knew the truth about our requirement for sleep we would treat it with greater respect.
We usually let our modern lifestyle dictate things like when and how much we sleep.
Let us see how important this biological need is and what we can do to increase the quantity and quality of our sleep.
So what exactly is sleep? Why is sleep so important?
Wikipedia defines sleep as follows:
“Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles, and reduced interactions with surroundings.”
Till about the 1950’s the body and mind was considered to be passive and dormant during sleep. Research has shown that it is quite the opposite.
Sleep is categorized into various stages. Stages 1, 2, 3 and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Essential functions like repair and renewal of cells and tissue take place when we sleep. This happens in the deep sleep stage (Stage 3). Please see the diagram below for further clarity regarding the stages of sleep.
Andy Coghlan explains in his post “A bad night’s sleep messes with your brain’s memory connections” says that you feel awful after a bad night’s sleep, because your brain is jammed with yesterday’s news.
Thus if our bodies are deprived of sleep then essential processes in our body do not get fulfilled. This can lead to various diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.
How much sleep do we actually need?
Each person has his or her own need for sleep. Though doctors and researchers have set a few figures to define average needs as per age, health conditions, and various other factors like pregnancy, etc.
Dr. Nathaniel Watson, a neurologist and sleep specialist recommends the following:
Go to sleep when you feel sleepy and wake without any alarm, when your body wakes you up naturally.
Do this for about 2 to 3 weeks to get a good idea of this time. This will be the sleep your body requires.
Then, do we get the required sleep?
Quite a few of us do not and the reasons are numerous. Mostly due of the modern lifestyle we lead.
So let us see how we can counteract these and what we need to be doing to ensure we get the required sleep.
1. Schedule a time to sleep
By sleeping at a specific time, you will be training your body to follow a routine every day. You might also consider setting up a kind of ritual or routine. This would get your subconscious ready for getting to bed.
People who work on shifts and at odd hours have a problem in falling asleep, because a specific schedule is not maintained.
2. Getting enough natural light
Melatonin is a hormone which controls sleep. During the evening and night melatonin levels in our body are raised which signals the body to fall asleep. In natural light melatonin levels are supressed making us feel more energetic, and less sleepy. Sometimes however, your body can be fooled by artificial light from television screens, mobile and tablets to think it is daylight. This would lead to a disruption of your body clock.
Lori in her article titled “Have Trouble Sleeping? Naturally Increase Melatonin and Sleep Better” discusses in great detail about melatonin and how to ensure natural melatonin level can be increased.
3. Deal with any issues that are on your mind
Deal with any issued you may be contending with before you hit the bed. If not, these issues might play on your mind and cause you to have a disturbed night. I would suggest get a note book and write down any thing you need to do, or that has been worrying you so that you can attend to it in the morning. Mostly when your mind knows that you have done something about it, you will start to relax.
4. Paying attention to your sleep environment
Your sleep environment is very important to you falling asleep quickly and maintaining sleep. This would mean ensuring that the room you sleep in is dark, keeping work related items out of the bedroom, keeping gadgets away, etc. In other words you might have to give it a bit of thought to see if anything within your bedroom is causing a disturbance.
5. Avoiding Caffeine in the latter part of the day.
Caffeine maintains your body in a heightened state for up to 12 hours after it is consumed. Thus ideally consume caffeine only in the mornings.
6. Planning your exercise schedule.
Exercise is vital for getting good sleep. If you have had a good workout you will realise the reward in a peaceful nights rest after that. That being said though, exercising in the late evening is not a really good idea because up to 3 – 4 hours after exercising your body temperature remains elevated to such an extent that sleeping might be difficult. Once your body starts cooling down though, you should start feeling sleepy.
If you need any help in getting started with an exercise routine, you can click on the links to my other posts:
7. Stop Smoking
The nicotine in cigarette smoke is a stimulant and works against good sleep habits. Elusive sleep can be added to the list of bad effects of smoking cigarettes.
8. Consider a white noise machine or apparatus
White noise is the sound waves that are random in character. you might think of a waterfall or wind blowing, as white noise. This induces a relaxed atmosphere. There are various devices that produce white noise, from alarm clocks to mobile apps.
You can consider reading this blog “6 Awesome Reasons Why White Noise Helps You Sleep Better”, for more details on white noise
9. Not getting anxious
If you cannot fall asleep, or you get up in the night and stay awake for an extended period of time you might tend to get a bit anxious. This however is counterproductive as it will worsen your situation. Instead concentrate on relaxing and breathing deeply. Once your body is relaxed it will be easier to fall asleep. Alternatively if you just cannot sleep you can consider waking up and doing something light like reading a book.
In few cultures in the past (before the onset of the light bulb), and when things were ruled by the sun; people would sleep at sun down and wake up in the middle of the night, do some light activities. They would then sleep again.
10. Keeping pets away
You might consider keeping pets away if they tend to disturb you when you are sleeping.
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11. Restrict napping during the day
If you nap during the day, then restrict the same to about 30 min. Anything greater than that and you might find it difficult to sleep in the night. So basically, your nap in the day should be a sort of power nap.
12. Eat and drink early in the evening
Keep at least a two hour gap in between eating your dinner and going to bed. If you sleep shortly after eating, then the digestive juices could escape from your stomach into your oesophagus and cause heartburn or aggravate GERD. Brynne Chandler explains this concept well in her article “The Disadvantages of Sleeping Immediately After a Meal”
Also do not consume too much water within two hours prior sleeping.
Drink water early, so that you will not be interrupted from your sleep to visit the restroom, in the middle of the night.
13. Restrict alcohol
You may think that alcohol helps you sleep better, but it is quite the contrary. It decreases REM sleep, which would cause you to be drowsy throughout the next day. This is portrayed well in the article “Alcohol and a Good Night’s Sleep Don’t Mix” by Denise Mann
14. Treating any conditions that might be affecting your sleep
A few conditions might affect your sleep, for example – sleep apnea, snoring, etc.. Some of these conditions might not be apparent to you. You would need your partner to indicate these conditions to you.
15. Stay cool
If you can maintain your sleeping environment to a comfortable temperature, this would assist in sleeping. This comfortable temperature usually varies from person to person, so you would need to figure out what your comfortable temperature is, for ideal sleep.
If you are following all or most of these tips but still find it hard to get sleep, then you might have to seek the advice of sleep professional. A sleep professional is a doctor who is trained in sleep medicine.
A few resources that might be helpful are below:
Have I missed out anything? Would love to hear from you in a comment.