Why Is Sleep Important?
Besides exercise I think sleep is one of the best ways to maintain good health. Many important things happen when we sleep deeply. Our bodies repair muscle and tissue, produce hormones that regulate growth and appetite and take the information we encountered during the day and make long term memories. Deep, restful sleep is vital for our mood, memory, immune system, weight management, blood sugar and heart health. Good sleep even keeps you safe! If you're alert during the day you have less risk of accidents at work or when you're on the road.
The recommended amount of sleep differs depending on age. For adults it's between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Because children are growing, they require more sleep during the day and night, between 9-13 hours depending on age.
Many of us don't get this recommended amount for a variety of reasons. If you want to find out ways to improve your sleep, fall asleep easier, and reduce waking up at night then read on to learn more about good sleep hygiene practices that can help you!
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene includes a variety of ways to improve sleep through lifestyle changes. Good sleep practices will promote relaxation before bed so you fall asleep easily and get into deep sleep where your body can heal and regenerate.
Have an evening routine
The purpose of this is to act as a signal to your body that it's time to relax and go to sleep soon. Here are some ideas for activities you could include in your evening routine:
taking a shower or relaxing bath with Epsom salts
having a cup of relaxing tea like chamomile, hops, kava, valerian, passionflower, oat straw, lemonbalm or skullcap
getting your things ready for the next day such as making your lunch, setting out your clothes or setting out breakfast so you're not rushing out the door in the morning
stretching or yoga
meditation for 5-10 minutes
progressive whole body relaxation is a great way to reduce worrying or scattered thoughts, focus your attention on your body, and release tension from your head to your toes
have a small snack before bed if you tend to wake up during the night
Napping can interfere with getting to sleep at a reasonable time. Try to avoid taking a nap during the day, but if you have to rest, limit napping to 30 minutes so you don't fall into deep sleep, which is difficult to wake from and may leave you feeling groggy. One trick I like to use is a "caffeine nap." Have a small cup of coffee or tea and instead of laying down, prop yourself partially upright with pillows or in a chair. The caffeine will kick in to wake you up in about 20-30 minutes and give you a boost of energy to get through the rest of your day.
Make your bedroom your sanctuary
Our bedrooms should be a safe space for us to relax and rest. Make sure you've set up your bedroom for great sleep with these tips:
keep your room dark with heavy curtains, cover lights from electronics
wear an eye mask if you're unable to get your room dark enough
keep your room quiet, shut windows and doors to prevent noise or wear ear plugs
our body temperature naturally lowers when we sleep so keep your room cool between 60-67F with the help of a fan, open window or AC
reserve your bedroom for sleeping and being intimate only. Don't spend lots of time in your room working, watching TV or eating so that when you're in your room your body knows it's time to sleep.
Avoid using electronics before bed
Electronics like laptops, tablets and cell phones emit light in the blue wavelength of the spectrum. Blue light keeps us awake during the day by suppressing hormones that make us sleepy. When we're exposed to it at night it can interfere with our ability to get to sleep. I understand that many of us use electronics in the evening for entertainment or working so try to stop using them about 30 minutes to 1 hour before you want to go to bed. You could also download apps that filter blue light, which are on many cell phones, and that change the light to a warmer, redder hue.
Working out is a great way to reduce stress and tire yourself out so it's easier to fall asleep. Exercise can also increase the amount of time you are able to stay asleep and increase the amount of time you're in the stage of sleep where you repair and restore. Working out later in the day might keep you awake so try to schedule it earlier in the day.
Things That Interfere With Sleep
Alcohol - even though alcohol can make you feel tired it doesn't allow your body to get into much deep, restorative sleep. Limit drinks to 1 per day for women and 2 per day for men.
Caffeine - I talked about caffeine naps earlier in this post, but if you're having trouble getting to sleep try avoiding caffeine or not having any after 12pm. The effects of caffeine can last a long time for some people, up to 10 hours if you're sensitive to it. Beverages that contain caffeine include coffee, black tea, green tea, chocolate and some medications (decongestants, weight loss and energy supplements).
B vitamins - these vitamins can be great for increasing energy but may be too stimulating for some. If you take a B vitamin take it in the morning so you can get the energy benefits and not interfere with your sleep.
A full stomach - a small snack before bed can help you stay asleep, but eating a large meal right before bed can interfere with it. Try to eat your last meal of the day about 3 hours before going to bed.
Deep, restful sleep is important for muscle and tissue repair, memory, growth, appetite regulation, and hormone production. The recommended amount of sleep differs depending on age. Adults are recommended to get 7-9 hours per night and children should get between 9-13 hours per night. There are many lifestyle changes that can be helpful for promoting sleep including having an evening routine, avoiding naps, creating a supportive sleep environment, avoiding electronics, and exercising. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, B vitamins and a full stomach before bed are also ways to improve sleep.
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This website is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.
“Get Enough Sleep.” Healthfinder.gov, 18 July 2018, healthfinder.gov/healthtopics/category/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationship/get-enough-sleep#take-action_2 .
Hirshkowitz, Max. “Exercise & Sleep: Duration & Quality.” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-does-exercise-affect-sleep-duration-and-quality.
“What Happens When You Sleep?” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-happens-when-you-sleep.