Sleep and rest are necessary for a healthy life. Getting enough downtime each day can not only rejuvenate you, but also fuel and heal your body and mind. Enough rest lets us be the best version of ourselves so we can work smarter and enjoy our days. Even regularly getting an hour or two less than needed can cause major problems down the road. When we don’t get adequate sleep, our mood, performance, and thinking skills are negatively affected, and our holistic health is compromised.
What happens while we sleep?
Our bodies have time to rest and heal while we sleep. When we sleep enough, we go through about four to five sleep cycles. It’s during these cycles that we have intervals of deep sleep and time to dream, or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and those intervals increase in length the longer we sleep. Basically, the longer we sleep, the more we get to dream, and the more our bodies heal.
What exactly happens to our bodies when we don’t get enough deep sleep?
When we don’t get enough deep sleep, we don’t feel our best and our health can be negatively affected. But there’s more to the story and to what lack of sleep does to our bodies. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter or had a bad night’s sleep, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. But if you’re not sure about your sleep routine, you may have some work to do, whether you think you sleep enough or not. Some signs that you’re not getting enough sleep include feeling lethargic during the day, having a hard time falling asleep, experiencing interruptions or disturbances throughout the night, or feeling unfocused or tired at work or school.
There are actually both short-term and long-term consequences for not getting enough sleep. Short-term issues include an overall increased stress response, increased anxiety and mental health problems, somatic problems like headaches or stomachaches, psychosocial issues and decreased cognitive function, and overall reduced quality of life in those with chronic diseases. Long-term consequences include problems with weight regulation, hypertension, high cholesterol, and increased susceptibility to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular problems and various cancers.
These are some scary potential consequences. When you do experience problems falling or staying asleep, it’s important to seek help in order to avoid the consequences of sleep deprivation.
How does an adequate amount of sleep benefit our mind and body?
When we sleep well, we feel amazing! That’s one of the best benefits of getting enough sleep — feeling like the best version of ourselves. But what’s really going on in our mind and body? Quite a lot, actually. Our bodies are hard at work regulating hormones, strengthening our immune system, and managing our cardiovascular system. Getting a good night’s rest is like pressing a reset button and letting our body prepare for the next day. Sleep also improves our focus and our reflexes and helps us think more clearly. How else does sleep improve our bodies?
At least seven hours of sleep reduces mental fatigue, improves memory, and regulates metabolic function. You simply won’t think or function as well without the appropriate amount of sleep. While we’re sleeping, our brain sorts through the experiences of our day and organizes itself; it then removes excess and toxic byproducts. So getting enough sleep can improve our cognitive function, but also our overall mental health. Rest can also positively impact our metabolic function by regulating hormones and reducing the risk of obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes. Mental health problems are exacerbated by lack of sleep as well, and enough rest may prevent further problems or disorders. Getting an adequate amount of sleep can even reduce the occurrence of nightmares.
You can ensure you get enough rest by creating a bedtime routine, enforcing better sleep habits, and finding the most optimal amount of sleep for yourself. Let’s take a look at some ways we can improve our sleep habits.
What are some ways you can create healthier habits around sleep and rest?
Get enough sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of sleep we need depends on our age and our own individual needs, but there are some general guidelines. Adults should get around 7-9 hours. If you’re older, you can get away with 7-8 hours, while teens should clock about 8-10. Recommended sleep durations increase for younger children. And if you think you require more or less than recommended, check with a doctor.
Create a sleep schedule
Figuring out what time is best to hit the hay and when to get your day started is not only smart, it’s also better for you. Irregular bedtimes are linked to poorer quality sleep. Experiment with a time that fits your weekly schedule best and adjust as needed to find what works.
Is there anything exercise can’t do? Getting regular exercise can help us feel tired at the end of the day and ready to crawl into bed. It’s also a great idea to regulate your weight, which can prevent problems with sleep apnea.
Your diet can certainly influence your sleep routine. Eating too much, lacking key nutrients, or having an imbalanced diet can make it harder to fall asleep. Obesity, weight gain, or being overweight are risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea.
Aside from sticking to healthier habits when it comes to sleep and rest, it can also be beneficial to try out some nighttime rituals to help you get in the mood for deeper rest. Everyone is different, so you may have to experiment with different sleep routines before you find the right one for you.
Limit electronics before bed
It’s best to turn off devices shortly before sleep time. The light emitted from electronic devices interrupts our circadian rhythm and melatonin production, studies show. But it’s also a great way to get sucked into an Instagram or Tik Tok spiral, which is not so great for your sleep routine.
Keep the room cool, dark, and relaxing
Science tells us that lowered temps — think 60°F-70°F or 15°C-21°C — may help us sleep better. And light, even dim light, can negatively impact our sleep patterns, so try to keep your room as dark as possible.
Listen to music or a sound machine
Listening to music before or during sleep can be beneficial, as it’s proven to decrease cortisol levels and increase dopamine levels. Music may even help to regulate hormones. And using sound machines or using white noise to block out other sounds is a great solution if you live in an area with loud noise.
Avoid eating or drinking right before bed
If you have a sensitive stomach, you may experience issues trying to get to sleep. And if you drink too much before falling asleep, you might need to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening
Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and spicy foods can improve your nighttime routine because these can make it harder to fall asleep. Drinking alcohol can suppress REM sleep, decreasing the quality of rest and leading to sleep disruptions and a shorter night’s sleep.
Apply some lavender oil before bed or incorporate it into your nighttime routine. It’s proven to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality — what’s not to love?
Sleep is essential for our holistic health. Think of your sleep routine as the ultimate self-care ritual — we simply couldn’t survive without it! Learning to be aware of our habits around sleep and how we can make positive changes can help us be better sleepers. But if you’re still having trouble with your sleep patterns after improving your nighttime routine, it’s a good idea to reach out and consult your doctor.