A good night's sleep is incredibly important for your health. It is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. People are now sleeping less than they did in the past, and sleep quality has decreased as well. This can be partially due to the fast-paced environment we all currently live in, and our reliance on electronic devices that can disrupt our sleep patterns, when we do not disconnect enough.
Studies show that the gap between getting just enough sleep and getting too little sleep may affect your health, your mood, and your weight. If you're getting less than the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep a night, try shutting down your computer, and turning off the lights earlier at night.
Sleep is vital to our mental and physical health, but how can we tell if we are really sleeping well? Here are some indicators:
- You fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of lying down to sleep.
- You regularly sleep a total of seven to nine hours in a 24-hour period.
- When in bed, sleep is continuous—you do not have long periods of lying awake when you wish to be sleeping.
- You wake up feeling refreshed.
- You feel alert and are able to be fully productive throughout the waking hours (it is natural for people to feel a dip in alertness during waking hours, but with healthy sleep, alertness returns).
- Your partner or family members do not notice any disturbing or out of the ordinary behavior from you while you sleep, such as snoring, pauses in breathing, restlessness, or otherwise nighttime behaviors.
The health effects of not getting enough sleep can result in sleep deprivation. It makes you feel more than tired, it can affect your ability to think clearly, react quickly and remember things. It also causes changes to our moods, which leads to irritability, problems with interpersonal relationships, depression and anxiety. Research also shows that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, can increase the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 Diabetes
To improve your sleep habits, it also may help to:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening
- Avoid nicotine
- Exercise regularly, but don't exercise too late in the day
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night
- Don't take a nap after 3 p.m.
- Relax before bed, for example by taking a bath, reading or listening to relaxing music
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool
- Get rid of distractions such as noises, bright lights, and a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, don't be tempted to go on your phone or tablet just before bed.
- Get enough sunlight exposure during the day
- Don't lie in bed awake; if you can't sleep for 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing
- See a doctor if you have continued trouble sleeping. You may have a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea. In some cases, your doctor may suggest trying over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid. In other cases, your doctor may want you to do a sleep study, to help diagnose the problem.
Remember, good sleep is one of the pillars of health, you simply cannot achieve optimal health without taking care of your sleep.
SOURCES: U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus; National Sleep Foundation