Whether you are a parent, a student, a business owner, a busy working professional, sleep seems to inevitably be sacrificed for higher priorities. Sometimes that “higher priority” is bingeing a Netflix series… (you know who you are because we are all guilty of this). We can develop bad habits of sacrificing our sleep without considering the short and long term effects of poor sleeping patterns. I know this from experience. I used to be ignorant towards getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night and then feel very lethargic the next day. We’ve all likely experienced this at some point, but as the days start to add up with this type of behaviour, we start to impact our health in a negative way.
The following are some negative effects of poor sleep habits:
- Increased cortisol (Stress)
- Decreased brain function
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Compromised immune system
- Decreased exercise performance
These are only a few of the effects that can occur after consistently poor sleeping habits. It is important that we try to optimize our sleep to prevent these effects from taking place. What do I mean by optimize? Well, the old cliché goes “quality over quantity”, but I like to think of sleep as “quality AND quantity”. Some argue that they need more than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep because they still feel tired. Unless you are an elite athlete that spends most of their day training and practicing their sport, 7-9 hours will be a sufficient amount of sleep to meet your physiological needs. However, some people may still feel exhausted because of the lack of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. In other words, they are not getting enough deep sleep. Researchers say that healthy adults need at least 90 minutes of REM sleep within our 7-9 hours. If we are tossing and turning most of the night or constantly waking up, we are disrupting the REM phase in our sleep cycle.
So how do we fix this? Here are 5 solutions to help you improve your sleep quality:
Increase Physical Activity
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve sleep quality. Consistent exercise throughout your week will increase energy expenditure and help relieve stress and anxiety so when it’s time to hit the pillow, you’ll be out like a light. It will allow you to spend more time in your REM cycle and increase the overall duration of sleep. Exercise also acts as a natural therapy for insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Exercise each day for at least 30 minutes to get the benefits of improved sleep. The exercise should astleast be moderate intensity so you should definitely break a sweat. Don’t exercise too close to your bedtime as it will increase adrenaline and alertness making it more difficult to fall asleep. A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself at least 2 hours to wind down before bed.
Reduce Blue Light Exposure
Blue light is a short wavelength, which means it produces more energy than other lights in the spectrum. Though it does have its place by improving alertness and boosting our moods, we need to be careful how much we are exposed to, especially at night. We are all guilty of staring at a screen just before bedtime without realizing the effects of doing so. With increased exposure, it can suppress the production of melatonin which is needed to allow us to wind down before bed in order to get a good night’s sleep.
Consider purchasing a pair of blue light glasses and wear them a few hours before bed if you know you’ll be on your phone or watching TV. You can also download apps such as flux, which blocks blue light on your device when the sun goes down. You should also consider having a bedtime routine like reading a book or doing non-screen related activity at least an hour before bed.
No Evening Caffeine
Caffeine provides us with numerous benefits including enhancing our alertness and focus. It is something we all look to for that extra boost during a busy day. The issue here is not the consumption of caffeine, but when we consume it. Studies have shown that consumption of caffeine roughly 6 hours before bedtime can lead to poor sleep quality. This is because caffeine stays in our system 6-8 hours after consumption.
Keep your caffeine consumption to mornings and early afternoons. This includes coffee, chocolate, pre-workout and other caffeine supplements. If you are looking for an energy boost in the late afternoon/evening try eating fruit high in simple sugars to provide that extra bounce in your step.
Improve Your Sleep Environment
There are many things we can do to improve the environment in which we sleep in. Doing so can immensely improve your sleep. For myself, I have made several purchases and adjustments towards doing so and I have not looked back since.
Sleep aids such as a weighted blanket, memory pad mattress topper, memory foam pillow are game changers to get optimal comfort when you’re trying to fall asleep and stay asleep. If external noises are an issue, invest in a pair of bedtime earplugs. Sometimes, the issue is not enough noise. Try turning a fan on to create a background noise effect. Also, make sure all lights that may be present in your room are turned off to make your room as dark as possible. Make your room a place of Zen!
Decrease Bedroom Temperature
We’ve all probably experienced what it is like to sleep in a hot room, especially in the dead of summer. If so, do you remember how that sleep was? Constantly tossing and turning and taking layers off until you’ve run out of layers to take off. I cannot think of anything worse than sleeping in a hot room. Sleeping in the heat not only decreases our quality of sleep, but also increases our alertness so we cannot get to sleep.
If it is the dead of summer, consider purchasing a fan or a window A/C unit if it is in your budget. For me, I like to sleep in a chilled room where I can always add layers if needed. You can also try putting your pillow case in the freezer for a few minutes before bed. If it is winter and your heating unit is making your room into a furnace, either reduce the temperature of it or open a window to let that winter breeze in.
Analyse your sleeping habits, the environment you sleep in and what could be causing disruptions in your sleep. If some of these issues resonate with you, give these tips a try to get you back on track to quality sleep. Remember that sleep has an impact on so many things in our lives. Ultimately, your sleep sets the tone for the type day you’re going to have. You will have a better mood with more energy and a sharper mind. Make sure sleep is your “higher priority”.