How often have you tossed and turned at night, unable to fall asleep? We all know the feeling: watching the clock tick hour by hour while feeling our stress rise. Restless nights and subsequent groggy days are a common occurrence. Read on to learn more about the importance of sleep and how to combat the dreaded restless nights.
America’s Sleep ProblemAccording to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, “About 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders, and 1 in 3 adults do not regularly get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep they need to protect their health.” Sleep is crucial for our overall health and happiness in life. The quality and productivity of our awake hours are directly influenced by the hours we spend asleep—or the lack thereof. Your body needs good, deep sleep to support healthy brain function, such as clearing out toxins and supporting growth and development.
The Importance of SleepYour body can survive food deprivation longer than it can survive sleep deprivation. The Scientific American found that humans can go as long as three weeks without food; however, a person can only live for less than two weeks without sleep. Sleep deficiency has both short-term and long-term effects. A short-term effect from not sleeping well may result in a car accident or an unproductive day. Long-term effects range from chronic health problems, heart issues, diabetes, and even your relationships.
Five Tips for a Restful NightDeep down, we all know how important a good night’s rest is for our overall wellbeing. So then why is it one of the first things we sacrifice? Staying up an extra hour to “be more productive” actually has a more negative effect than a positive one: we are less productive when we sacrifice our sleep. Here are five tips to help you have a more restful night, and, therefore, a more productive day.
Create a RoutineNow that we better understand the need for sleep, we can better prioritize it. Create a sleep schedule—and stick to it. Going to sleep at the same time and waking up at the same time will help your body recognize when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. As you ritualize a specific bedtime, as well as a specific rise time, you will be able to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep more deeply. Additionally, start winding down at least 45 minutes before bed. You should especially limit screen usage about an hour or two before you try to sleep. Cortisol is a “flight or fight” hormone that has many other responsibilities, one of which is controlling the awake and asleep cycle. These cortisol levels can get out of hand when you are overly stressed, which throws off your sleep cycle. Avoid this stress by winding down before you turn out the lights—drink herbal tea, read a book, or listen to relaxing music.
Write Out Your ThoughtsIt’s common for our minds to be racing when our heads hit the pillow. We live in a society fueled by stress and deadlines, and it can be hard to turn off those feelings. Journaling before you go to bed can be a helpful way to sort out your thoughts and ease some of the pressure you feel about the day. Also, journaling your thoughts and feelings can help you reflect upon the day with a greater perspective. You can also write out a to-do list for the following day. Relying purely on memory for the tasks ahead can make your brain work harder, causing more difficulty in falling asleep. Writing down a to-do list of what is on your mind for tomorrow or the week ahead can help your mind and body release stress and relax.
Eat Well and at the Right TimesNo one likes going to bed hungry; a grumbling stomach will keep you tossing and turning at night. Be sure that you are eating a good meal with lots of nutrients before you go to bed so you can rest comfortably. It’s also important to know that eating too soon before bed can make falling asleep more difficult. Eating right before bed makes your digestive system work overtime through the night. Digesting is hard work on your body, and it can leave you feeling groggy in the morning if your body has been busy digesting all night. Allow your body at least 3 hours after eating to digest your food before going to bed.
Nap with CareMany of us fall victim to this cycle: not sleeping well the night before, taking a long nap the next day, feeling groggy and restless, staying up too late, not sleeping well at night, and the cycle continues. Limit your naps to 30 minutes or less, or else you’ll wake up feeling worse than before your nap. Additionally, try to only nap before 3:00 PM to allow your body enough time to become restful again before your nighttime sleep routine.
Take a Moment of MindfulnessResearch has shown that practicing mindfulness can help you conquer sleep issues, especially those that arise from stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, can help improve your relaxation response, while improving the autonomic nervous system, allowing you to sleep deeper. (Light sleepers will be grateful for that!) According to Healthline, meditation has many helpful factors, including the following:
- Increases the sleep hormone melatonin
- Increases serotonin
- Reduces heart rate
- Decreases blood pressure
- Activates the sleep part of the brain