One simply cannot deny the health benefits and overall good feeling that comes with a good night’s sleep. Sadly, it is getting more and more difficult to get a good nights rest, especially during the busy workweek. In fact, almost two-thirds of Americans report they are not getting enough sleep during the week. Many believe they can go without sleep as long as they make up for lost sleep on the weekend. However, studies have shown, when we habitually sleep less than we should it becomes impossible for our bodies to make up the loss, no matter how much time we have to recuperate afterward.
While many of us may be unable to carve out extra sleeping time from our schedules, there are still many ways we can improve our sleep. By focusing on improving the sleep we do get, we can do much to improve our overall attitude, mood, and health. Here are 8 simple tips you can apply to your life, which will help you get to sleep faster, sleep deeper and improve the quality of your sleep:
1. Turn off the lights
The basic human sleep cycle, or circadian rhythm, is regulated by light. This is why people historically, ordered their days around the rise and fall of the sun. However, in our busy modern society, we have changed our natural habits.
Did you know nighttime light exposure is one of the main factors affecting the quality of sleep? Light suppresses the body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating our bodies’ circadian rhythms. A recent study found that exposure to electrical light after dusk reduced pre-sleep melatonin levels by 71%.
Melatonin is important for regulation of body temperature, blood pressure, and blood sugar. People who are regularly exposed to light throughout the night have weakened immune systems and incur an increased risk of developing different types of cancer. Furthermore, working the night shift or rotating shifts for several years has been proven to shorten people’s lifespans.
While it may not always be possible to go to bed a little after sunset, (depending on the time of year or our schedules,) there are some changes we can make. Dimming the lights before bed can help prepare our bodies for sleep. We should also seek to avoid nightlights or turning on bright lights if we wake up in the middle of the night.
2. Avoid electronic devices
The use of communication technology before bedtime in America has become pervasive. Electronics, such as televisions, computers, and mobile phones, actually hinder our natural ability to fall asleep. Besides engaging the mind and producing adrenaline these devices emit artificial light. We need to limit our usage of these devices as we wind down our day; and avoid using them when we are trying to fall asleep.
3. Stick to a schedule
We should seek to follow a healthy and natural sleep/wake cycle. A consistent cycle will encourage better sleep because our schedules influence our circadian rhythms. Rising early in the morning and going to bed early at night is best. Make it a goal to be asleep by 10 PM as studies show that we get our best sleep before midnight. It is also best to avoid naps during the day as they can interfere with nighttime sleep.
Be organized and try to prioritize your tasks for the day. Only tackle what you can handle. At night, it helps many people to keep a notebook by their bed. This way, they can write down anything they are worried about forgetting and deal with it in the morning.
4. Relax and get comfortable
Avoid activities that are too stimulating and find some time to unwind before you go to bed. Dimming the lights and reading is a good way to do this. For many people, it is helpful to repeat the same ceremony each night. Simple things like brushing your teeth or bathing help signal your body that you are ready for bed.
After a difficult days work, managing your stress levels is important. Too much worrying makes it difficult to relax and can rob you of sleep. Avoid any arguments or disputes that could sour your mood. Making the extra effort to create a peaceful, comfortable sleeping environment will also make a big difference. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary; focus on making it cool, comfortable, tidy, quiet and dark.
5. Say no to drugs
Sleep aids, such as sleeping pills, should be avoided. They increase the risk of mortality and cancer and some of them can be addictive. Even when taken in small amounts, (less than 18 per year,) they increase the risk of death by over three times. If you really need something to help you sleep, try some chamomile tea.
Substances like nicotine, caffeine and alcohol should also be avoided. Stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine, will make it difficult to relax and get good quality, deep sleep. While alcohol may initially make it easier to fall asleep, as the body metabolizes it, a person will begin to sleep progressively lighter. This will often cause disturbances later in the night and will lead to fatigue and tiredness during the day.
6. Watch what you eat
It may come as a surprise to some people, but our dietary habits influence our sleep quality as well. Eating shortly before bedtime will disturb your sleep as your stomach tries to digest the new food. It’s best to eat your last meal several hours before bedtime. Give your stomach a break and eat a dinner that is small and easy to digest. Nighttime eating is also correlated with weight gain, giving us extra motivation to watch when we eat.
7. Get active
Daily exercise or physical activity is not only healthy for you, but it helps promote better sleep. By releasing some pent-up energy during the day, you will not only improve your physical condition, but you will sleep easier and deeper throughout the night. People who exercised were also found to have more energy and better mood during the day. But be careful about exercising too late at night, as it could boost your energy and make it difficult for you to get to sleep.
8. Be thankful
Closing the day by contemplating the day’s blessings and spending time in prayer is another way to get peaceful sleep. Forgive those who you need to and make amends with the people you have wronged. God wants us to rest in him; we can trust him to guide us through the challenges life throws at us. The peace he gives will enable us to sleep soundly even in the midst of our hectic schedules. 2011 Sleep in America poll, National Sleep Foundation  “Repeated sleep restriction in rats leads to homeostatic and allostatic responses during recovery sleep.” National Academy of Sciences of the USA  “Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism  Ibid  “Melatonin, Sleep Disturbance and Cancer Risk.” Sleep Medicine Reviews  “Defying circadian rhythm: The emergency nurse and the night shift.” Journal of Emergency Nursing  2011 Sleep in America poll, National Sleep Foundation  “Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study.” BMJ Open  Alcohol and Sleep, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism  “The time of day and the proportions of macronutrients eaten are related to total daily food intake.” British Journal of Nutrition