Getting sufficient quality sleep is vital for both physical and mental wellbeing. While sleep may seem like an inactive or unproductive way of spending your time, it is actually quite the opposite. While you are getting that shut-eye, your body is hard at work repairing tissues, clearing toxins from the brain, and even solidifying brain connections that enhance memory and learning.
Sleep is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
If you are constantly waking up feeling unrested, chances are you are one of the 1 in 3 Americans not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, or you are not consistently getting quality sleep. Maybe it’s both. So, what can you do to change that?
Sleep hygiene. Ever heard of it? Sleep hygiene, as defined by the National Sleep Foundation, is “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” Here are 5 easy ways to start improving your sleep hygiene, for a better night’s rest and a more productive day:
Create a wind-down routine and stick to it.
One of the most important rules of sleep is regularity. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – and yes, that includes the weekends. A helpful way to establish this regularity (other than a daily morning alarm), is to create a bedtime wind-down routine to prepare your body for sleep. The routine should include calming activities, such as reading or journaling, taking a warm shower or bath, relaxing with a cup up chamomile tea, or meditating. By creating a calming routine, you are cuing your body and mind that it is time for sleep.
Check your environment.
Sleep will be much more restful if you are in the right environment. Three factors that are important to consider are: temperature, light, and noise. Keep your environment cool – the optimal temperature for your body at rest is generally between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Eliminate light by shutting off electronics, using eye masks, or investing in curtains that block out external light. Create a quiet space. If you live in a sleepless city or with a chronic snorer, try earplugs or white noise to muffle out the sounds.
Your sleep-wake cycle is an internal clock that is largely influenced by the external environment, including sunlight. As the sun goes down and darkness sets in, your body begins releasing a hormone called melatonin, which naturally cues you to it’s time for bed. However, our addiction to technology and constant connection to our devices inhibits these natural processes. Blue light from our devices mimics sunlight, tricking our brains to believe that it is not actually nighttime. Try dimming light sources and unplugging from your devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime to allow yourself the best chance to fall asleep.
There are many benefits of exercise – weight management, stress management, and better sleep. While vigorous exercise seems to reap the greatest benefits for sleep, any exercise, as compared to no exercise, has also been shown to improve sleep. Find small ways to get more steps into your day, like swapping the elevator for the stairs, parking your car at the far end of the lot, or getting off the subway a stop earlier. Timing of exercise is also important to consider. Exercising too close to bedtime can hinder sleep for some, so keep your workouts at least 1-2 hours before bedtime if you’ve noticed the “runner’s high” keeping you up at night.
Blame it on the alcohol.
We’ve all heard of the alcohol nightcap. Alcohol is known for its drowsy effects and can actually help induce sleep. However, while falling asleep may be easier, staying asleep is not. Quality of sleep is significantly reduced when even small amounts of alcohol are consumed, as alcohol disrupts rapid eye movement (aka REM) sleep, among other factors. The REM stage of sleep is when most restoration takes place, so when it’s blocked, you wake up feeling unrested. Try and eliminate that nightcap from your routine. It’s actually hurting your sleep quality way more than you realize!