Sleep is something that is taken for granted by many, but it is one of the most crucial aspects of your ability to function at your best and maintain your overall wellbeing. Healthy sleep plays an integral role in facilitating alertness and many other functions within the body to occur, such as hormonal regulation by the hypothalamus and even immune function.
Having difficulty with sleep can place you at a disadvantage when it comes to your overall wellbeing and health. Sleep disorders, a poor bedtime routine, and anything but a consistent sleep schedule can all impact your ability to function in your day-to-day life. Taking the time to get your nighttime sleep down pat is a worthwhile investment into yourself and one you should deeply consider if you are constantly feeling run down and tired.
Below is a closer look at sleep, why it matters, as well as tips and tricks to help guide you to a better quality of sleep. With this information in hand, you can be on your way to developing your very own sleep routine that best fits into your life and lets your reap all the advantages a proper sleep cycle has to offer.
Why good sleep matters
In the western world, especially in the United States, sleep is somewhat seen as a luxury in the public eye. The U.S. is notorious for its high expectations of workers, and if you were to ask those that subscribe to the hustle mindset, they’d tell you that sleep is for the weak.
What these individuals don’t understand is that not only is this statement false, but getting a lack of sleep can actually be damaging and will weaken your health.
Sleep matters and this is evident by the fact that without it your ability to function at your best is severely hindered.
A prime example of how detrimental sleeplessness can be is when you look at driving while feeling tired. Tired driving is dangerous due to the effects of sleep deprivation on alertness, judgment, and reaction time. In fact, the negative effects on cognitive abilities experienced while tired can be similar to that experienced while being under the influence of alcohol. According to the CDC, staying up over 24 hours can affect your cognitive abilities similar to having a blood alcohol content of .10 which is over the legal limit to operate a vehicle.
Looking past the immediate effects sleep has on your body, it can also have long-term effects if you are not getting enough of it. Chronic sleep deprivation such as that experienced by people with sleep disorders can pose system-wide issues. These issues can compound and increase the chances of developing depression, immunodeficiencies, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even hormonal imbalance.
Things that could be wrong with your sleep
While the symptoms of sleep problems are readily apparent with feeling sleepy, understanding the reason as to why you are not getting good sleep can be elusive. The elusive nature of what causes sleep problems is why there are specially trained MDs that help people get to the cause of their sleeplessness.
While sleep specialists can be invaluable, it is wise to try and do everything in your power to improve your sleep first. To further understand sleeplessness, below is a breakdown of some common problems that people experience that can reduce their quantity and quality of rest.
Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty falling asleep can be incredibly inconvenient and frustrating. There is nothing worse than knowing you need to go to bed, yet you lie awake staring at the back of your eyelids. The added mental turmoil of knowing you should go to sleep yet you are unable to can add more fuel to the fire and make it even more difficult to fall asleep.
Difficulty falling asleep can be caused by a number of things which include consuming caffeine too close to the bed, taking long mid-day naps, doing rigorous exercise before bed, exposing yourself to bright lights, or even being anxious.
Poor sleep quality
Another common issue that people encounter is a difficult time staying asleep and getting good quality sleep. Unlike difficulty falling asleep, problems staying asleep can be less obvious to those that experience it. Typically if you know you are sleeping for a good amount of time yet feel exhausted when you wake up in the morning, it can be an indicator of poor sleep quality and that your body is not entering deeper levels of sleep.
Sleep can be broken down into four stages of sleep where each stage has unique characteristics. The deeper levels of sleep are associated with the stages that are connected to sleep’s rejuvenating qualities and with poor quality sleep, individuals get less than ideal amounts of deeper sleep.
Misaligned sleep schedule
A misaligned sleep schedule occurs when your bodies’ internal clock does not align with when you need to be awake. A common instance of a misaligned sleep schedule is when you vacation or visit a different time zone. The time difference may be easy to adjust on your watch, but your body takes time to adapt to the time change. This time and challenge with sleep is often referred to as jet lag and is something that tends to be short-lived as your body slowly adjusts.
A more chronic case of misaligned sleep schedules are those experienced due to shift work. Careers like nursing require staffing 24/7 and as such, some workers need to cover the 7 pm to 7 am. Within sectors like healthcare, workers can typically take on three-night shifts per week. With only three days a week where they have their sleep schedule flipped, it can be difficult for their bodies to adapt to drastic changes which can ultimately lead to difficulty sleeping.
Ways to improve sleep
With a few of the common causes of sleep established, you may be wondering what you can do about it. Getting good quality sleep is a highly variable endeavor as for some people it can be incredibly easy while for others it can be quite difficult. There are many different factors that go into sleep, but there are some general tips that are likely to help your sleep.
Below is a closer look at tips and tricks to getting the perfect night’s rest and feeling more rejuvenated, wakeful, and alert.
Caffeine is one of the most popular stimulants in the world. Caffeine is a molecule found in coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine works within the body by blocking the binding of the neurotransmitter known as adenosine. By blocking adenosine binding, caffeine effectively tricks your mind to stay awake and more alert. This is the main reason why you should avoid caffeine consumption in the evening. When consumed in the evening, it can make it incredibly difficult to fall asleep and it can impact your ability to get to deeper levels of sleep.
Upgrade your sleep setup
An uncomfortable mattress or pillow can play a large role in the quality of sleep you get each night. When you sleep on an uncomfortable mattress or pillow, you are much more likely to shift around throughout the night and are less likely to enter deeper stages of sleep.
Sleep comfort is highly subjective and choosing the right setup for you may involve some trial and error. A great way to determine your sleep preferences is to try out a variety of mattresses and determine which are the most comfortable for your specific tastes and sleeping style.
Good sleep hygiene
Having good sleep hygiene is somewhat of a catch-all phrase, but understanding how to have good sleep hygiene could give you the nights’ rest you’ve been looking for. The first aspect of sleep hygiene is to have a nighttime routine where you decrease your exposure to harsh bright lights an hour before bed, such as blue light from screens.
Next, you should control your environment to ensure you stay asleep throughout the night. Blocking out external light through the use of blackout curtains or an eye mask can be effective in ensuring light doesn’t wake you up. A white noise machine or earplugs can be utilized to remove noise from the equation.
The final aspect of sleep hygiene is to set a consistent wakeup time and create a wakeup routine. Waking up at the same time every day can help to set your body’s circadian rhythm which can make it easier to fall and stay asleep. Having a wake-up routine that gets you exposed to light can act as a natural external cue to your body signaling that it is time to wake up.
In summary, there are many improvements that can be made to help your sleep habits. Avoiding caffeine, getting a quality mattress, and practicing good sleep hygiene can all significantly help promote better sleep. With better quality sleep and a sleep schedule to match, you can be on your way to having more natural energy without caffeine.