Before We Begin, Why is Sleep so Important?
Sleep plays a vital role in our lives and is essential to recharge our bodies after our daily activities. You may have noticed how easily it can affect you: if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you may find yourself to be more emotional, short-tempered, unable to focus on your daily tasks, or all of the above. If we never slept, we literally wouldn’t be able to function. So, what is it about sleep that makes it so important in our lives?
Good quality and enough hours of sleep are associated with many positive health outcomes, including:
- Improving memory function.
- Regulating emotions.
- Restoring our metabolic functions and energy levels.
- Aiding the synthesis of useful molecules of our body.
- Helping to eliminate toxic substances and metabolic waste from the body.
Overall, sleep has a significant impact on our quality of life. Adequate quality sleep can improve our physical health in terms of managing diseases, chronic pain, and even our BMI. Our mental health also benefits from good sleep quality, which reduces our adverse psychological reactions (i.e. anxiety, depression, aggression) and also enhances our cognition and attention. Getting enough sleep is also important for students and workers, to boost their productivity, concentration, and academic and job performance.
A few things that can affect our sleep are:
- Physical activity.
- Screen time before bed.
- Alcohol and tobacco use.
- Time spent in bed (i.e. working, studying, watching series…).
- Health conditions (i.e. medical problems, depression, anxiety…).
- External factors (i.e. work shifts, the state of the bedroom, the house/neighborhood environment…).
Many of these factors are related to a lack of sleep hygiene.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
A good sleep hygiene means having an environment and a daily routine that helps promote consistent, uninterrupted, high quality sleep. Performing the same nightly activities will signal to our body that it’s time to rest and will allow us to fall asleep faster.
How can you improve your sleep hygiene? Well, let’s look into a few basic, simple things that can help you get started.
The U.S.-based Sleep Foundation recommends the following tips for establishing a sleep hygiene:
- Try to go to bed and wake-up at the same time each day, and aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep.
- Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening (i.e. coffee, teas, soft drinks…), and avoid alcohol and nicotine before bed as well.
- If needed, take a power nap of no longer than 20 minutes during the day.
- Attempt to develop a routine that would alert your body that it’s time to sleep (i.e. changing into your comfy pajamas, brushing your teeth, reading/journaling, and switching off the light).
- Make sure that your bedroom is quiet, at a comfortable temperature, and dark enough (could have a dim light).
Avoid Using Electronic Devices Before You Go to Sleep
Having devices such as our phone or a TV in the bedroom creates a highly stimulating, media-rich environment. They project a blue light which affects our sleep. Our eyes are very sensitive to this blue light, and night-time exposure to it can disrupt our body’s melatonin secretion and subsequently, our overall sleep as well. For this reason, you might go to sleep later than usual, which would result in shorter and poorer quality sleep. It is recommended that we turn off our electronic devices before bed and, if possible, try to leave them outside our bedroom.
Embrace the Power of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy can be a great help towards achieving better quality sleep; and, even better, it’s pretty inexpensive. Applying a few drops on your skin for the body to absorb or inhale can help improve mental and physical health by helping you relax, reducing stress and anxiety, and promoting better sleep. Lavender, cypress, and chamomile essential oils have been proven to be some of the best options to consider trying.
Find Your Center With Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits, particularly for those suffering from sleep disturbances. Mindfulness meditation focuses on training your mind to pay attention to the present moment by focusing on your breath. It can help decrease negative thoughts and emotional reactivity, and promotes objective evaluations of your daily experiences, all of which can help you become more relaxed, facilitating more peaceful sleep.
Some Technology Solutions to Help You Establish a Routine
Once you have a better understanding of your sleep and how you can establish a better bedtime routine, there are a few different kinds of apps and equipment out there that can help you in keeping up with your routine:
- White noise machine.
- Meditation/mindfulness recordings.
- Sleep trackers.
- Habit trackers.
Some Points to Remember:
- Everyone functions on different lengths of sleep. The general recommendation is to get 8 hours of sleep; for some people, however, 7 hours is enough, whereas others might need 9 hours. The important thing to remember is to keep an eye on what works best for you and adjust accordingly. If you find that 9 hours of sleep are too much and leave you lethargic throughout the day, try sleeping 8 hours.
- Finding a sleep routine that works for you takes time, and not everything works for everyone; sleep routines are not a one-size-fits-all.
- If you continue to struggle with your sleep for prolonged periods and find that it is interfering with your day-to-day life, it is wise to seek professional help. Meditation specialists and sleep therapists can help you get your sleep under control, and their methods may minimize or prevent your need to rely on medication.
Overall, sleep is a crucial part of our life, so it’s important to establish a solid routine and adopt good habits that help achieve the best quality and quantity of sleep. And, with a little bit of practice, it’s possible to achieve that.