It’s 11 p.m., and you’re exhausted. Flopping onto your welcoming bed after a tiring day of work, you don’t even bother changing into pajamas. As you close your eyes, you wait for some shut-eye that doesn’t come. You can’t help twisting and turning, flipping your pillow to the other side. The caffeine from the cup of coffee you had after dinner starts kicking in, and you groan in regret. Frustrated and tired of counting sheep in your head, you roll over and scroll through Instagram, hoping it’ll kill some time before you get tired.
This scenario is not an uncommon one for many — in fact, more than 5 million Americans report struggling to fall and stay asleep. The billion-dollar industries for sleep remedies and drugs are further reflective of our collective lack of sleep, and our quest to get more of it. More than 60 million Americans regularly depend on sleep medications each year. However, these alternative man-made solutions often do more harm than good in the long run, as they tend to throw off our biological sleep cycles and can potentially result in an overdose.
It’s recommended that the average adult gets 7-9 hours per night. During these key hours of rest, our brains process and store the information they take in throughout the day. In a process called “consolidation,” bits of information are solidified as long term memories. Sleep is crucial for our memory capacities; impaired sleep has been consistently associated with memory-related diseases like Alzheimer's. Physically, our bodies require sleep to repair muscles, grow tissue, and release and synthesize necessary hormones and proteins. Without proper sleep each night, this restoration of the body is cut short, or doesn’t happen at all; this is the main reason why sleep deprivation has been linked to illnesses like depression, heart disease, lowered immunity, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. As an added bonus, there’s no denying that a good night's rest translates to better moods, increased energy levels, and increased productivity the following day. Studies have proven again and again that getting eight hours of quality sleep is crucial for our well being, but many of us struggle to do so. Listed below are 10 practical tips for you to optimize your sleeping experience, and hopefully improve the quality of your slumber.
- Have a bedtime routine. This might consist of playing some relaxing music, unwinding with a bath, or journaling about your day. This looks different for everyone, but the ultimate purpose should be to calm your body down and detach yourself from stressors or too much excitement.
- Establish a sleep environment. Make sure everything in your bedroom reflects optimal conditions for sleeping. Studies show that the overall temperature should be on the cooler side — around 65 degrees. Devices like curtains, eye shades, earplugs, and fans might help against noises or distractions.
- Avoid electronics at least an hour before bedtime. The artificial blue light that these devices emit delays the body’s internal clock and suppresses melatonin, the main hormone associated with sleep, therefore reducing both the quality and duration of sleep. As an alternative, consider reading a book under lamplight.
- Avoid large amounts of coffee in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, which are natural substances that make you feel sleepy. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine six hours or so before bedtime will make falling asleep dramatically easier. For the late evening cravings, try decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea instead.
- Avoid alcohol prior to bedtime. Alcohol has a similar effect on the body as caffeine, often doing more harm than good for our sleep. If you’re struggling with falling asleep, consider skipping Happy Hour.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Waking up at 7 a.m. on the weekends might be the last thing you want to do, but it’ll help regulate the body’s internal clock, and therefore enhance your sleeping experience.
- Exercise daily, but not right before bed. Exercising is always a good idea, but studies show that it has numerous positive impacts on sleep as well. This is mainly due to the elevated levels of adrenaline and epinephrine that comes with exercising, which increase alertness and energy. However, these same hormones might work against you and keep you awake at night, so try to refrain from vigorous exercise at 11 p.m.
- Avoid heavy naps in the afternoon. Catnaps here and there in the mornings or early afternoons are okay, but 3-4 hour naps in the evenings are not encouraged.
- Invest in comfortable mattresses and pillows. This step does not require breaking the bank! Just make sure that your mattress and pillow — whether firm or soft and cushiony — has not exceeded its life expectancy of around 10 years. Styles and texture depends on personal preference and your sleeping position.
- Don’t do work in bed. Make the connection between bed and sleep in your mind. Things or actions associated with anxiety or stress are better off kept in a separate room, away from your relaxing sleeping environment.
Perhaps, in this increasingly competitive global economy, a few sleepless nights are inevitable. After all, extended work hours, prolonged commute times, and all the necessary domestic chores of daily life leave little room for slumber, instead adding to our exhaustion. However, these tips, combined with a mindset that establishes sleep as valuable — and not just a lazy waste of time — will hopefully leave you more rejuvenated and well-rested to tackle tomorrow’s demanding tasks.