Night after night you lie in bed hoping that maybe tomorrow night, you’ll get enough rest. After all, sleep is a critical factor in keeping yourself healthy. You know that getting the right amount and quality of sleep is as important as eating the right foods. Chronic lack of sleep increases your chance of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It also impacts your memory and problem-solving skills. With constant sleep deprivation, you know you’re more prone to suffer from mood problems and difficulty concentrating.
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And so as you lay there with so much on the line, you worry that counting sheep just isn’t cutting it anymore. Nearly half of Americans know they’re not getting enough sleep, and a lot of them are doing nothing about it. Are you one of them?
Counting sheep isn’t working. Let’s take a look at what might.
Why Can't You Sleep?
If you’re looking to improve your sleep, the first place you want to evaluate is your sleeping environment. Why? Because our bodies naturally produce melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles) better when it’s dark. Too much light in your bedroom may be interrupting your melatonin production and contributing to your sleep problems.
A bedroom should be a dark, comfortable place where you can relax. If it’s not, you might want to think of some ways to improve your sleep space. Black-out drapes, minimal night lights, and a comfortable bed will go a long way to improving your quality of sleep.
Stress vs Sleep
While it’s possible for your lack of sleep to cause stress, the opposite is also true. When you’re stressed, your body triggers a set of responses to address the perceived threat. Aside from changes in your breathing and heart rate, your body also releases chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals prepare your body for a fight-or-flight response. When your body is in a constant state of stress, falling and staying asleep can be hard to achieve.
Instead of shuffling into bed at the end of a long and stressful day, make a conscious effort to release some stress before bed. Make a to-do list for the next day so you can forget about your task-list. You could also do yoga or listen to soothing music. Find how you de-stress, then work to decompress before you sleep.
Food that keeps you awake
You know that extra cup of coffee in the evening is going to keep you up, the same way you know the late-night hot wings will give you heartburn. Instead of sabotaging your body, reign in the foods you eat before bed. Stay away from caffeine-rich foods for at least six hours before bedtime. Similarly, if you want to avoid heartburn at night, avoid fried, spicy, and tomato-based foods that will trigger acid reflux.
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Technology may keep you up at night
Your phone and TV habits may be another threat to your quality of sleep. Research shows that the type of light emitted by electronic devices such as your tablet, smartphone, computer, and television have a high concentration of blue light. This light has a potent ability to shift your circadian rhythm, which controls wakefulness and other body functions, so changing it can have a big impact on your health.
If that isn’t enough to get you to put down your phone and the remote, researchers have found that blue light also has a powerful effect on melatonin suppression. This means that staying up late watching TV is not only cutting into your sleep time, but it’s making it difficult for you to sleep when you finally do go to bed. Aside from the quantity of sleeping hours, blue light exposure also affects your quality of sleep. Which means that even if you have slept for eight hours, it will feel like less. This can leave you tired, irritable, and moody.
Improve your sleep by cutting back your exposure to blue light from your electronic devices. Turn off your smartphone, tablet, or other blue light-emitting devices at least two to three hours prior to bed. When this isn’t possible, try the following:
- Use blue-blocking glasses at night. If you’re constantly exposed to blue light-emitting devices at night, take advantage of blue-blocking glasses. Research shows that wearing these glasses reduces the effect of blue light on melatonin suppression.
- Install a brightness-adjusting app on your phone or computer. Programs like f.lux enable you to sleep better even if you’re using your computer at night. The app adjusts your phone or computer display at night to a faint orange, which reduces the blue light coming from your device.
- Expose yourself to bright light during the day. Daylight exposure can improve your ability to sleep at night and helps boost your mood during the day.
Getting enough sleep isn’t easy these days. Work, home life, and constant media distractions can make it difficult to get enough shuteye. When counting sheep no longer works, set yourself up for positive sleep patterns with a few small changes. It’ll be worth it to get the rest you deserve.