The amount of sleep you need changes as you age, but generally, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep per day. Sleep plays a significant role in your health and well-being as well as protecting your physical health, mental health, quality of life, and safety.
Sleep can be a deal-breaker between having good health and poor health.
Sufficient sleep improves learning, keeps you alert, helps you to make decisions, helps to maintain heart health and hormone balance, and protects your immune system.
In contrast, sleep deficiency has been linked to risk-taking behavior, depression, and an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, and it claims more than 800 lives per year due to fatigue-related vehicle accidents.
The National Sleep Foundation define good sleep quality as:
- sleeping for at least 85 percent of the total time you are in bed
- drifting off to sleep in under 30 minutes
- waking up no more than once in the night
- being awake for under 20 minutes from when you first fall asleep
You are not doomed to toss and turn eternally. While you may not be able to control all the factors that interfere with your sleep, your daily behaviors and habits can be changed to encourage better sleep, which is reportedly as beneficial to health and happiness as winning the lottery.
Here are Medical News Today's tips to help you to improve your sleep and put the bounce back in your step.
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day - even on the weekends.
Our bodies have an internal clock called the circadian rhythm, which tends to coincide with the cycle of daytime and night-time. Your circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle, is on a 24-hour loop that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.
Your circadian rhythm works best with regular sleep habits, such as keeping the same bed time and wake up time. Factors such as daylight savings time, jet lag, or staying up late to watch your favorite television show can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make you feel cranky, as well as disrupt your ability to concentrate.
Recent research has shown that sleep regularity is associated with higher levels of morning and evening happiness, healthiness, and calmness during the week, while irregular sleeping patterns are linked to poorer academic performance, delayed sleep and wake timings, and a delay in the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.
If you struggle with sleep, try sticking to the same sleep routine and you may find that after a while, you may no longer need an alarm.
2. Increase exposure to daylight
Take a stroll outside in daylight for at least 30 minutes each day.
Exposure to electrical lighting has been shown to delay our internal clocks by around 2 hours. Scientists have recently discovered that the solution to resetting our clocks and resolving our sleeping woes could be as easy as spending more time outdoors in the sunlight.
Sunlight plays a key role in regulating sleep patterns. We have evolved to be awake when it is light and asleep when it is dark.
Exposure to bright light stimulates a nerve pathway from our retinas, which is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of our eyes, to an area of our brains called the hypothalamus.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a minuscule region of the hypothalamus, signals to other parts of the brain that control body temperature, hormones, and other functions that determine whether we feel drowsy or alert.
Morning light tells the SCN to begin performing processes such as raising our body temperature, releasing stimulating hormones (including cortisol), and delaying the release of hormones that promote sleep (such as melatonin) until it gets dark.
As the sun sets, melatonin levels in the blood increase rapidly, which results in you feeling sleepy. Melatonin levels remain elevated throughout the night until daytime, when they fall to low levels once more.
You can influence your exposure to light by having your breakfast outside or near a window to help you to wake up, take your work breaks outside, or try to let as much natural light into your workspace or home as possible.
3. Decrease exposure to blue light at night
Sunlight is the largest source of blue light. Blue light regulates our circadian rhythms, which tell us when to sleep, and boosts alertness. Blue light from sunlight can benefit sleep, but blue light is also found in most LED-based devices, which can harm your sleep.
It is no secret that most of us have snuggled up with our smartphone or digital tablet, or watched television from the comfort of our beds at some point. These habits that we have so quickly developed could be heavily contributing to our inability to sleep properly. Research has indicated that blue light emitted from digital devices could increase the risk of sleep complications.
Realistically, it is unlikely that any one of us is going to quit using our devices in the evenings, but there are steps that we can take to reduce our exposure:
- limit screen time
- apply screen filters
- wear blue light-blocking glasses
- use anti-reflective lenses
- use the night mode settings on your devices
- download blue light-reducing apps
Too much exposure to artificial light before bed time might prevent you from sleeping well. Turn down the lights in the evening and make sure that your bedroom is free from light to ensure that your sleep is undisturbed.
4. Up your physical activity and diet quality
Paying attention to your physical activity levels and what you eat and drink may improve your sleep.
Getting out the door for your 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per week not only gives you a post-workout glow, but it has also been found to improve sleep quality by a staggering 65 percent.
What is more, meeting the exercise guidelines could lower your risk of leg cramps by 68 percent and decrease difficulty concentrating by 45 percent. However, avoid taking part in any vigorous exercise too close to bed time.
Diet quality and sleep quality appear to go hand in hand. Researchers suggest that meals lower in saturated fat and higher in protein may help you to fall asleep more quickly, while a greater intake of fiber predicts more time spent in the deep, slow-wave stage of sleep.
In contrast, eating more foods high in saturated fat is linked with less time spent in the deep sleep phase, and greater sugar intake could cause you to wake up more often from your slumber.
You may also want to reconsider your drink of choice if you like a cup of coffee on your way home from work; caffeine consumption can have a significant effect on your sleep, even when consumed 6 hours before bed time.
5. Practice mindfulness-based meditation
Mindfulness could be the final piece of the sleep enhancement puzzle. Just as fitness and nutrition are intrinsically linked, so too are sleep and mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation aims to increase mental focus, improve awareness of thoughts and experiences, and decrease stress, and so it can be a useful technique for managing sleep issues.
A growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness helps to manage stress, anxiety, depression, weight loss, relationship difficulties, and productivity, and it has now been hailed as the latest tool to deal with sleep disturbance.
Having a purpose to get out of bed in the morning has been linked to better sleep at night and decreased sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. If you are having trouble finding purpose in life, this is something that can be tackled through mindfulness-based therapies.
Mindfulness has also been shown to improve sleep quality in older adults who experience moderate sleep disturbances.
In addition to trying out these steps to help to improve your sleep, you could check out our choices of the 10 best sleep apps to help you to say goodbye to sleep troubles for good.