Consider this: we spend almost one-third of our lives in bed. For the average American, that is about 26 years.
Sleep is such an important part of our lives that it can develop into some serious health issues if you miss enough of it. Studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and obesity, depression and inflammatory diseases, and a decrease in productivity. In fact, Rand Europe and University of Cambridge studied more than 21,000 employees and found that those who slept for six hours or less were significantly less productive. So how long should you be sleeping?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for adults aged 26-64. But even if you get into bed with the best intentions of sleep, the struggle to fall asleep can slowly chip away at precious restorative slumber.
A new study characterized “good night’s sleep” by a few things: You take less than a half hour to fall asleep; you wake up no more than one time throughout the night; you’re asleep 85% of the time.
If this doesn’t sound like you, here are a few tips to help get your sleep back on track so that you can remain alert and productive throughout the day.
Things to Avoid to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Avoid Caffeine – Caffeine can remain in your body for eight to fourteen hours. Basically, it delays the timing of your body’s internal clock, or circadian clock according to Science Translational Medicine. Drinking even six hours before bedtime can reduce total sleep by one hour according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Avoid Alcohol – Although alcohol can help you fall asleep in the short term, it can cause disturbances in sleep later in the night. You can also quickly become dependant on the sedative effects while also slowly increasing your tolerance. According to NIH.
Avoid Nicotine – Smokers experience nicotine withdrawal during sleep, which keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep. According to a study published in Chest Journal, Official Publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, smokers can get a less restful sleep than non-smokers due to the nicotine in cigarette smoke.
Avoid Stressful Situations – Psychologically stressful activities can cause secretion of cortisol, which increases alertness. The chemicals in the brain that stop the production of these stress hormones are activated in deep sleep. This means no staring at the clock either – this can lead to even more stress.
Avoid Late Naps – Short naps are great for things like memory consolidation, and can serve as a general refresher. But, one study had actually shown that naps were associated with overall less sleep at night. So, if you need to nap, do it early in the day. The National Sleep Association suggests napping between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm because that is when your body clock is naturally programmed for it.
Avoid Looking at a Screen – Backlights from tablets or phones can suppress melatonin, the chemical your body secretes to tell you to sleep according to studies. If you need to look at your computer, apps like Just Get Flux will slowly dim your screen if you are working at night, helping send you to sleep.
Avoid Making up for Lost Sleep – What many don’t realize is that the effects of sleep loss are compounded the more days in a row you stay up late. There is no way to actually “make up for lost sleep,” other than just getting back to your regular schedule as soon as possible. According to the chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Dr. Charles Czeisler, attempting to catch up on lost sleep by sleeping in excessively actually breaks the rhythm that you have established. This is also known as “social jetlag,” a phrase coined by chronobiologist Till Roenneberg.
Avoid Extra Snoozing – The snooze button unfortunately doesn’t let you finish off the sleep cycle that you were awaken from. After hitting the snooze the first time, your brain thinks you are going back to sleep and you’re likely to hit an even deeper sleep when you are jolted awake by the next alarm a few minutes later. This can make you feel even more tired.
Tips for Getting to Bed Quickly
Eat A Small Snack – Late night snacks can help stabilize your body’s blood sugar levels according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Stick to eating snacks with a little protein and fat like an avocado or a spoonful of almond butter. Eating a large meal before bed can put extra strain on your gastrointestinal system that can keep you up. The same goes for spicy foods or high-sugar treats before bed.
Late Night Exercise is Actually OK – According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, vigorous late-night exercise does not disturb sleep quality.
Take a Bath – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests taking a warm bath because it warms your body. Then, the drop in temperature after you get out of the bath helps send a biological trigger to your body that sleep is coming.
Use White Noise – White noise works because it creates a masking effect that blocks out the sudden changes or noises that can prevent you from falling asleep according to neuroscientist Seth Horowitz.
Tips for the Best Sleeping Environment
Keep Room Temperature Cool – A dip in temperature before bed helps tell your brain and body that it is time for bed and can actually help you fall asleep. One study found that insomniacs who wore a cooling cap before bed were able to fall asleep easier. However, you will want to maintain a comfortable temperature between 60˚F – 75˚F all night so that you don’t disrupt sleep.
Color Your Walls Blue – Blue might be the magic color for a good night’s sleep. One survey by Travelodge showed that participants that slept in blue rooms got a better night’s sleep than those in other colors. 58% of those in the blue bedroom also woke up feeling happier.
Wear Socks – Studies have shown that warm feet promotes the rapid onset of sleep according to Nature.
Medium Firm Mattress – One study determined that the softest mattresses and hardest mattresses were both associated with worse pain and sleep quality. So, it is best to avoid the wider ends of the spectrum when choosing a mattress firmness.
Sleep on Your Own – Dr. Neil Stanley, who leads a sleep laboratory at the University of Surrey, reported that married people who sleep in the same bed suffer 50% more harmful sleep disturbances and is a big proponent of sleeping in separate beds.
Wake up to Natural Light – Light has an impact on the cognitive brain and can help reset your circadian rhythms. Don’t fight the sun when it rises.
If you are one of these types of people, you can use technologies to your advantage. Apps like the Bedtime app on the iPhone can be set to help you keep a bedtime schedule and will gently wake you up with music. Serenity is an iOS app that lets you create your own mix of relaxing white noise, like rolling thunder and rain to help you fall asleep. White Noise Free is a similar app for Android. Then SleepCycle or SleepBot track your sleeping activity throughout the night to show you if you’ve had a good night’s sleep.
Stresses from work, family distractions or traveling into different time-zones are just some of the reasons millions of Americans struggle with sleepless nights. Even if you consider yourself a good sleeper, with a constant flow of information and news stories from the internet, it is easy to find yourself staying up way later than you should scrolling through your social feed. There is no substitute for an old-fashioned good night’s sleep. When you are feeling tired, put down the phone and get to bed.