Sometimes it can feel like there is never enough sleep to be had. Scientists suggest adults have between 7-9 hours per night, but how often do we reach that optimal number? According to studies, 33% of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep – making it harder to work, operate machinery, or repair body aches and pains.
We break down all you need to know about sleep and how little improvements can have a consequential impact on your life and wellbeing.
The Cycles of Sleep
Not getting enough sleep can have a large effect on mental and emotional health. Every 90 minutes, our body experiences two primary stages of sleep. In those stages, there are three deeper stages of sleep which are where all the important moments happen! Longer than a nap, your body temperature will drop, muscles will relax, and your heart rate and breathing slow down. It’s these moments of ‘deep sleep’ which are most constructive for our body and minds: growth is stimulated, muscles and skin will repair themselves, and our immune systems will improve.
The stage outside of deep sleep is commonly referred to as REM (Rapid Eye Movement). This is the stage of sleep where dreaming occurs and plays a vital role in processing information, restoring memories, and contributes to mental health maintenance. These two stages together are essential for our everyday wellbeing – both physically and emotionally. When we lack REM sleep, we are usually cranky, less social, and more unstable the following day. Coffee, anyone?
How To Improve Sleep
Have you ever been stuck lying in bed for hours on end wondering how and why you aren’t drifting off? Maybe you are nervous about a meeting in the morning, or you are thinking about an argument you had earlier in the day? A key to good sleep is a resting heartbeat – something too much emotion will jeopardize. There are many ways to improve our night’s sleep by adopting habits that should begin a few hours before our bedtime.
Stick To Your Bedtime
Our bodies like routine. It is important to stick to a schedule – whether it works our play – to keep it measured and consistent. Our bedtimes should be treated the same way as that daily office meeting or evening TV show. By switching our lights out and closing our eyes at the same time each night, our body will regulate and enter better sleep each night. Over time, we will start feeling tired at the same time each night and wake up naturally each morning feeling refreshed.
Avoid Long Naps!
Our sleep cycles mean that after 60-90 minutes, we enter a deep sleep. While this level is essential for our body repair, it can have dreadful effects if we enter this state during the day. Our afternoon naps should be restricted to 30 minutes. This way, we enter the light stage of REM that can help us feel refreshed without the grogginess afterward. Next time you take a nap – and who doesn’t love napping? – set an alarm for 35 minutes.
Avoid Artificial Light
For centuries, humans fell asleep when it got dark. We became acclimatized to reacting to light and dark, helping us regulate our bodies. With the increased amount of lights and bright screens we see each day, this can have negative effects on our sleep cycle. Be sure to dim the lights around you for an hour before you go to bed. Preferably turn your phone off completely, but if this is unavoidable then make sure to put on night mode.
Watch Your Diet
We’ve touched upon some of the mental things we can do to help us sleep, but what about the physical? A lot of scientists say we should avoid sugars, caffeine, and cigarettes for at least four hours before we go to bed. These are quick releasing energy items which can keep our heart rate elevated and keep us up for longer. Be mindful to keep your snacks at night to a minimum and make sure they are sugar-free. This will help you drift off easier once you get to bed.
Don’t Stay In Bed For Longer Than 30 Minutes
Many Feng Shui experts say that all electronics and exercise equipment should be kept out of the bedroom. Your bed should be used for two things: sleep and the other thing. If you can’t sleep after more than 30 minutes, get out of bed and walk around. Try to have a glass of water or pick up a book (not a screen or e-book!). It’s ok to stay up a bit later if it means you find ways to relax outside your room.
What Happens When You Have Bad Sleep?
The consequences of a bad night’s sleep can be felt throughout the entire next day. Starting with a headache and heavy eyes, our days continue as get increasingly irritable, fail to concentrate, lose our temper, or act less social. Since 33% of Americans claim to not receive enough sleep, there’s no need to take some crankiness so personally from people! Lack of sleep can have devasting effects on behavior and performance, even contributing to ailing health.
Time Is Of The Essence
Our bodies start to feel the effect of sleep deprivation after only 18 hours. When you hit the three-quarter mark in the day, it is the equivalent of having 0.08 blood alcohol levels in your system. It’s hard to quantify what that means in terms of drinks – each person is different – but it is generally considered to have the same impact as a beer or glass of wine. This means you start to literally feel drunk with tiredness.
It Increases Chances Of Accidents
Experiencing long winds of bad sleep can increase your chance of having a car accident by eight times the average person. This is because your reflexes slow down and your cognitive abilities get reduced. Our ability to make decisions quickly and judge events gets worse without rest, making driving a potentially life-threatening event. If you ever feel too tired to drive, make sure to always get a cab or pull over to rest for the night.
Anxiety and Depression
Inadequate sleep has negative effects on our memory restoration and the brain’s opportunity to recover from challenging events. Bad sleep causes anxiety and depression, which in turn can create bad sleep! The relationship between sleep and mental health are bidirectional, meaning it’s very difficult to separate the two of them. Always remember you can ask for help from friends, family, or professionals if you need help falling asleep at night.