While you sleep, your mind and body are busy replenishing cells, restoring energy and rebuilding tissue. Without sleep, you wouldn’t have enough energy to accomplish basic bodily functions, much less get your forty-hour work week in. In a 2018 study published in the journal Sleep, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine found that 181,335 respondents to a survey conducted between 2003-2016 got an average of 7.5 extra hours of sleep each year. While that may not seem like a lot, the researchers noted that the increment in sleep amounts to 4.4 full days of sleep each year over the 14-year period. Why is this important? Because according to Dr. Mathias Basner, this shows an increased willingness in parts of the American population to give up pre-bed leisure activities to obtain more sleep. However, according to the Sleep In America Poll 2018, even though a majority of American adults (65%) think sleep contributes to next day effectiveness, only 10% of people prioritize it over other aspects of daily living.
Getting too little sleep can increase stress, disturb mood, and impair your ability to concentrate. Furthermore, poor sleep can also have long-term health impact such as heightened risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, decreased immune function, major depression, obesity, etc. Both the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine—two of the most prestigious organizations in the complex field of sleep research—recommend at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
The key to improving both your quantity and quality of sleep is developing better bedtime habits—known as “sleep hygiene”. By doing this, you’ll teach your body that it is time to shut down for the night, and markedly improve your sleep quality over the long term – without the need for pills, prescriptions, or even expensive sleep apnea tests.
In this article, we are revisiting the most essential habits you can develop to help you sleep better.
The perfect bed
If you want to improve your sleep quality, you must make your bed your perfect sleep sanctuary. We all feel comfortable on different types of mattresses and on different types of pillows. It is personal and never wrong if it fits your body and gives you a good night’s sleep. Since you can develop health issues if you do not get the proper support while you sleep, make sure you invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows. Before you go mattress hunting, search online and narrow down your options by reading mattress reviews and rankings. Also, choose sheets and pillowcases that feel good on your skin. Cotton is usually the best fabric since it’s soft and absorb moisture, allowing the body to stay warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather.
Be active during the day
Science proves that getting more sunlight helps you sleep better at night. Sunlight boosts serotonin levels, sets the body clock to daytime, and boosts performance. According to Dr. Scott Collier, if you need to lower your blood pressure and also want a good night’s sleep, 7 am is the best time to exercise. If you can’t force yourself to be active this early, it is recommended to exercise at least three hours before bedtime. Body temperatures rise during exercise and take as long as 6 hours to begin to drop. Since cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset, it’s important to allow the body time to cool off before sleep.
Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine
Before bedtime, engage in relaxing activities. Take a warm bath or shower, read a book, watch television, listen to relaxing music or practice meditation. All these activities ease your mind and make you less tense. An hour or so before bedtime do your best to avoid stressful, stimulating activities. Also, keep the computer, phone, TV, and tablet out of your bedroom. Blue/white light is a stimulant that actually boosts attention and reaction times.
Keep regular sleeping hours
Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep. Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, even on weekends and vacations. This programs the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. Keeping a regular sleeping routine is sometimes difficult, so an important thing is to lower your expectations and don`t pressure yourself. Your routine must depend on what works for you best. This way it is a lot easier to stick to it.
Kick your coffee habit
Coffee stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night. Caffeine sparks the production of adrenaline. An increase in this alertness-boosting hormone raises your heart rate, increases your breathing and brings on a state of increased vigilance and alertness. That being said, it alters the melatonin levels in your brain, makes it take longer to fall asleep, and makes you sleep less — even if you aren’t drinking right before bedtime.
Also… Kick your alcohol habit
Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns. A National Institutes of Health review of decades of research shows that study after study demonstrates the ill effects drinking has on your sleep. Alcohol is a depressant. While it can help you fall asleep faster, it also contributes to poor quality sleep later. Namely, drinking alcohol before bed inhibits restorative sleep and can interrupt your circadian rhythm. In addition, it blocks REM sleep and can aggravate breathing problems.
Keep only power naps
People nap out of habit, because they are sleep-deprived as a result of a sleep disorder, or after a long work shift. While short power naps are beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep. The study “Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults” noted that while napping for 30 minutes or less can enhance daytime brain function, longer naps can negatively affect health and sleep quality. Since the effects of napping depend on the individual, if you take regular daytime naps and sleep well, you shouldn’t have to worry.
Keep in mind that your daily routines – what you eat and drink, the medications you take, how you schedule your days and how you choose to spend your evenings – can significantly impact your quality of sleep. Since even a few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night, completing a two-week sleep diary can help you understand how your routines affect your sleep.