Most of us love it; all of us need it; and most of us don’t get enough of it: sleep. Despite the crazy number of studies that have been done and a number of handsome doctors on TV telling us about the importance of having a good night slumber, many of us are still guilty of bad sleep habits.
Consider this stat from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): more than one-third of adults in the United States sleep fewer than six hours a night. Keep in mind, six hours is the absolute bare minimum that’s recommended from health professionals. Adding to the CDC’s findings, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) discovered a few other troubling statistics:
– At least 40 million adults suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders (70?!?)
– 60% of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more.
– More than 40% of adults report severe enough daytime sleepiness to interfere with daily activities.
– Perhaps most troubling, 69% of children experience one or more sleep problems a few nights or more during the week.
These numbers are truly staggering; so much so that the CDC is close to labeling the lack of sleep an in America an epidemic, something that some organizations have already done. In our opinion, the reasons for this epidemic – in America and many other places in the world – is that there is still a lack of understanding and knowledge of why sleep is important.
Here are just a few benefits of a good night’s sleep: improved concentration, better memory, fewer accidents, less stress, less anxiety, more creativity, longer life, improved overall performance, etc. And this by no means is an exhaustive list.
With that said, how can we sleep better? It’s not necessary to load up on sleeping pills (probably), as there are numerous natural ways to get better shuteye.
Here are 9 ways to get better sleep naturally:
1. Develop a routine
Many (most?) of us are guilty of that well-deserved Saturday morning slumber (lowers head in shame). Apparently, sleeping in wreaks havoc on our ‘internal clock’, causing more sleep problems. Heading to bed at the same time every night – including on weekends, holidays, etc. – helps to establish and maintain our internal clock. It helps us sleep better as well by reducing the amount of tossing, turning, and waking up.
2. Exercise (at the right time)
Here’s a shocker, right? “What doesn’t exercise do?” is the more appropriate response. Researchers at Northwestern University’s Department of Neurobiology and Physiology (say that fast 10 times) report that once-sedentary individuals who implemented aerobic exercise four times a week improved their sleep quality from ‘poor’ to ‘good’. It’s important to ensure that we’re scheduling exercise at the right time, as well. Working out late could negatively affect sleep since exercise releases a mix of brain chemicals that promote alertness. Work out at least three hours prior to bedtime to counteract this problem.
3. Eat and drink differently
It’s best for our sleeping habits to eliminate some items from our diets by a certain time. It’s recommended to cut these out by mid-afternoon: chocolate, caffeine, coffee, soda, and tea. Also, eat lighter in the evening, as a large meal delays digestion and interferes with our sleep. A good idea is to make dinner our lightest meal, and eating it a few hours before bedtime. Lastly, make sure to skip the heavy and spicy foods at night.
4. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol
Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a stimulant. Stimulants cause feelings of alertness and anxiety in the brain – a bad combo when trying to sleep. A study at Johnson Hopkins University School of Medicine states that smokers are four times more likely to report not feeling as well rested after a full night’s sleep than nonsmokers. Also make sure to stay off the booze, as alcohol actually creates a similar, stimulating response in the brain.
5. Lay off the electronics
According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, every individual included within the study had used some kind electronic devices (cell phone, tablet, computer, etc.) within an hour of trying to sleep. This habit is counterproductive to sleep, since the light emitted from the device stimulates the brain, making it more difficult to drift off. A good rule of thumb is to stop using these devices about an hour before hitting the sack.
6. Keep it cool
It’s been discovered that warm temps are not ideal for a good night’s sleep. Keeping the thermostat somewhere around the 65 degree mark is much more conducive to our body’s needs. While some may consider this a bit chilly, sleep experts recommend keeping it at this level while using additional bed covers and wearing heavier sleep attire for additional comfort, if needed. This practice effectively reduces our core body temperature, helping us to drift off to sleep much easier.
7. Sleep alone
For those of us that are married, this obviously doesn’t apply (although we need our own space). For those of us that are single, we shouldn’t be sharing the bed. Mayo Clinic performed a study in which they found that over half (53%) of people that slept with a pet experienced disruption in their sleep.
More than 80% of parents that slept with their children had multiple occurrences of waking up. The lesson here is quite simple: dogs and kids do not make good sleeping buddies. Try to keep those furry friends and adorable kiddies out of the sleeping space.
8. Darken the room
Pretty common sense stuff here, but light tells our body it’s time to wake up. Even low-light emitting devices such as a cell phone, computer and night light can cause fluctuations in the levels of melatonin in the brain. Regular melatonin levels are essential to a good sleep because they regulate sleep and wake cycles.
Simply put, darken the room as much as possible. Consider buying some black-out curtains if it becomes necessary.
9. Don’t force it
Forcing ourselves to try to sleep is worse than not getting any at all. The reason is that when we know we’ve got to get our sleep but can’t, it creates feelings of anxiety and stress. Obviously, we are not going to drift off when this is the case. A much better idea is to do something light, such as read a book (a paperback or hardcover), do some mundane chore that’s been put off, or maybe knit some kind of gnarly crochet for the couch.
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Okay, so knitting is not necessary…but indulge in some sort of hobby until the eyelids become heavy once again. Then head back to bed…