How to Sleep Better to Be the Best You
Quality sleep, combined with proper nutrition and exercise, create a trifecta for taking care of our body. Despite quality sleep being so important, there is a rise of sleep debt, especially in the United States. If you have trouble sleeping, know you are not alone. According to American Sleep Apnea Association, 50-70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic classes are affected by sleep-related problems, resulting in 25% of American adults reporting insufficient sleep at least 15 out of 30 days in a month.
If you struggle with sleep, you have come to the right place. Learning about sleep and how to sleep better is the first step to tackle the problem. It is not an easy feat and learning how to sleep better may be a period of trial and error, discovering what triggers your individual sleep problems and figuring out how to transform your daily routine and sleep habits.
Why Should You Tackle Poor Sleep?
Getting a good night’s rest, at least 7 hours of sleep for people ages 18 and older, enables the human body to rest and recharge. Sleep plays an important role in cognitive and behavioral functions, as well as immune function, metabolism, disease resistance, and more.
Studies have shown that getting sufficient sleep improves energy levels, learning ability, productivity, memory, including accuracy of short-term memory, creativity, and clarity of thought. Additional benefits include improved reaction time, mood, hand-eye coordination, and endurance.
Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality may impair concentration, clarity in thinking, memory formation, and may make you more irritable. Moreover, studies evaluating the relationship between sleep and health have found that chronic lack of sleep or poor sleep quality increases the risk of a handful of health problems, including but not limited to: high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.
Aside from increasing the risk of health problems, lack of sleep increases the risk of on-the-job accidents and automobile crashes.
As you can see, our body works hard to take care of itself as we rest. Tackling poor sleep promotes improved daily cognitive and behavioral functions as well as guarding against long-term health problems and preventing accidents.
Signs of Lack of Sleep or Poor Sleep Quality
This is not an extensive list covering all the signs, just the most common.
- Daytime Fatigue
- Trouble Thinking and Concentrating
- Anxiety and or depression
- Weakened Immune System (i.e. getting sick more often)
- Digestive Issues
What Causes Poor Sleep?
According to the Sleep Foundation, some of the most common causes of poor sleep in the United States are stress, irregular sleep schedule, lifestyle habits, anxiety and depression, and specific sleep disorders. Let’s take a deeper look at each.
Stress stems from a variety of areas in our life. Work, school, and social relationships are just a few examples. Physical stress and mental stress result in hyperarousal, potentially making it more difficult to fall asleep. Other research has indicated some stressed individuals may be prone to having high sleep reactivity, which means they have stress-induced sleeping problems making it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
2. Irregular Sleep Schedule
Our body’s circadian rhythm, our internal clock, follows closely with the patterns of day and night. Going to bed and waking up at a different time every day makes it harder for our bodies to fall asleep and stay asleep.
3. Lifestyle Habits
Lifestyle habits such as keeping the brain stimulated late at night by work, games, or TV shows can make it harder to fall asleep. Napping late in the afternoon or waking up late can throw off our body’s circadian rhythm also making it harder to fall asleep. Moreover, using our bed for activities other than sleep can create links between your bed and wakefulness.
Other factors include diet and drinks such as caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant keeping you awake, contributing to a struggle to fall asleep. On the other hand, alcohol is a sedative, however, it can cause fragmented sleep, worsening your sleep quality.
4. Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression often lead to unwanted thoughts, stimulating the brain and leading to hyperarousal and disturbing sleep routines.
5. Specific Sleep Disorders
Millions of Americans each year are diagnosed with a specific sleep disorder, ranging from narcolepsy to sleep apnea, which greatly affects their sleep.
How to Sleep Better
A handful of techniques and steps can be taken to improve your sleep schedule. These 10 have been recommended by the Sleep Foundation, HelpGuide, and more.
1. Invest in Quality Bedding
Your bed is your oasis and investing in quality bedding contributes to creating a comfortable, relaxing space. High-performance mattresses and pillows ensure your neck and spine are getting proper support and promote comfort. Quality sheets and blankets make your bed inviting. Moreover, different sheets and comforters regulate different temperatures, allowing you to decide which fits your needs during the night.
2. Keep A Dark Space
Darkness promotes the release of melatonin and helps control our circadian rhythm. Light can interfere with our bodies' circadian rhythm and throw off sleep patterns. Keeping a dark space is extremely important and investing in an eye mask or black-out curtains can promote your rest.
3. Set a Fixed Wake-up Time and Bed Time
Setting a sleep schedule promotes a healthy circadian rhythm.
Toss your phones, tablets, computers, and TVs at least 30 minutes before going to bed. They are a great way to relax and unwind, but at the end of the day, they are mental stimulants, making it harder to unwind. The light from the screens can also interfere with the production and release of melatonin.
5. Move Your Body
Expelling energy during the day from walking or exercising can promote solid sleep. However, it’s important to keep in mind what type of exercise you are performing and at what time of day. High-intensity workouts should be done far before bed as they may make it harder for your body to settle down. On the other hand, low-intensity exercises such as yoga and stretching can help promote sleep.
6. Avoid Late Meals
Eating large meals late at night can make it difficult to fall asleep because your digestive system will still be working hard. If you need a snack, try a light, healthy option.
7. Limit Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant. Experts advise against drinking caffeine late in the day, as it may keep you wired and make it more difficult to fall asleep. The effects of caffeine can last up to 12 hours.
8. Reserve your bed for sleep (and sex)
As mentioned earlier, doing other activities other than sleep (or sex) in your bed can create a link between your bed and wakefulness, rather than sleep. Try your hardest to keep your bed reserved for sleep and sex so that when you crawl into bed, your body knows its time to sleep.
Focusing on your breathing can help you relax and rid yourself of any stressors or unwanted thoughts. One breathing technique I have been using is the Navy Seal Breathing Technique which they use when encountering stress and goes as follows.
- Breathe in for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds
- Exhale for 4 seconds
- Hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds
10. Set a Hard Cut Off Time for Work
Like electronic devices, work, whether for a professional career or school, should be tossed at least an hour before bed. Working late into the night keeps your brain stimulated and can create unwanted stressors before bedtime. Setting a hard cut off time for work allows you to unplug and destress before bed.
As a college student getting pulled every which way and burning out quickly, I noticed a decrease in productivity, problems thinking clearly, and daily mood swings. After this realization, I decided to focus on learning how to sleep better. My journey has been long, and is not over yet, but the results are already so rewarding.
Transforming your daily routine and sleep habits to learn how to sleep better may aid in discovering what’s causing your poor sleep, or vise versa. This journey is not linear and will look different from everybody else's. What are you waiting for?
Written by Lauren Conklin