Ah, the beauty of a good night’s sleep! There is nothing as beneficial to your health, productivity, and overall happiness as those blissfully unconscious, uninterrupted hours. Waking up to face the day feeling refreshed and renewed is the best way to get a jump start on the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.
On the other hand, waking up tired from a restless night of tossing and turning is probably the worst way to greet the day…and we’ve all been there. Instead of lying awake at night hyper-aware of the hours rolling by as you near closer and closer to the break of day, get to the root of the problem! In reality, there are many things that prevent us from getting the rest we need. Here’s a list of the five most common issues preventing us from getting a good night’s sleep:
Exposure to Light and Electronics
Using our cell phones, televisions, laptops, and tablets before bed can be devastating to our sleep cycle! What do many of us do in the last hours before bedtime? We watch tv or scroll our newsfeed! If you’re guilty of indulging in this pre-sleep screen time, it’s crucial to rethink your nighttime habits.
Though it seems mindless, watching late night TV or scrolling through Facebook on your phone is actually engaging your brain. To collect and process all of this information, your brain sends signals to the rest of the body telling it to stay awake and alert. Even after you turn everything off and snuggle into the covers, your brain still needs time to wind itself down before you can move into the deeper stages of your sleep cycle to get the best rest.
Secondly, the blue light emitted from these electronics can inhibit your production of melatonin, the chemical in your body that regulates your internal clock by controlling your sleep and wake cycles. You can essentially train your body when to be tired and when to wake up by influencing your production of this chemical. By subjecting your brain to the light of your electronics, you’re essentially telling your body to stay awake even though you believe you’re preparing for bed. To make sure you get the best sleep possible, studies (that link screen time to major health concerns) suggest employing a strict “no screen policy” before bed.
You can get pretty sleepy after a couple of cocktails, so it makes sense that an evening cocktail has been traditionally referred to as a “night cap.” Ironically, while the effects of alcohol consumption can help you fall asleep faster, the quality of your sleep is actually worse.
According to a British study on the effects of Alcohol and Sleep, those drinks can artificially encourage you into a deeper sleep than your normal sleep cycle’s progression. The sleep cycle naturally moves your mind through 5 stages of sleep- the last of which being REM sleep where your brain has the chance to solidify the information of the day into new memories. After a few drinks, you skip the first, few stages and directly progress into a deeper sleep…sounds good, but it’s not! When the alcohol eventually wears off, you’ll be more prone to waking- yielding a more interrupted, more disturbed sleep.
Eating Before Bed
While some foods can actually help you sleep, making poor nutritional decisions can decrease your ability to get adequate shuteye. Having a glass of milk, for example, has long been credited with helping people fall asleep; like turkey, it contains the amino acid, tryptophan. (Remember how tired you were felt after Thanksgiving dinner? Tryptophan was probably the culprit!)
What foods to avoid before sleep? Eating foods high in saturated fat- like most fast foods- can cause heartburn or acid reflux but also avoid eating too close to bedtime! Digestion requires your organs to work overtime and keeps your body active during the hours it should be resting.
Erratic Sleep Routines
While staying up late, sleeping in, or even going to bed early can feel incredible at times, an erratic sleep schedule can actually be doing more harm than good. As mentioned earlier, your body naturally produces melatonin, a chemical that regulates your internal clock. If you keep a consistent bedtime, you essentially train your body when to produce enough melatonin to help you fall (and stay) asleep and to wake up well rested the following morning.
Stick to a consistent bedtime in order to get the 7-8 hours of recommended sleep, and, over time, your brain will adjust to make the most of your sleep schedule. If you’re constantly modifying the hours you’re asleep to accommodate your work or lifestyle choices, it will be harder and harder for your brain to know when to rest and when you need to be alert.
Bedtime is the perfect time to let your mind to wind down and for your brain and body to recover from the activities of the day…but it can also be the perfect time for your imagination to run wild. As your systems start slowing down, the thoughts sometimes begin wandering over seemingly random and off-the-wall notions that can threaten your sleep. Taking 15-20 minutes before climbing into bed to meditate, relax with deep breathing exercises, or simply engage in a bit of quiet time can do wonders for an overactive mind.