You don’t need anyone to tell you just how much of a pain it can be when you have regular trouble sleeping. You don’t need anyone to tell you how it impairs your focus, makes headaches become a regular occurrence, keeps you feeling exhausted, or drastically changes your mood. But you should know just how dangerous it can be for your body and what you can do to battle it and win the war.
Here’s how you get your sleep back.
Know the dangers
You might very well be well-enough motivated as is to tackle your sleeping problems. But there are real concerns and genuine reasons to make the matter as urgent as possible. If you’re consistently losing sleep, you are doing real damage to your body. For one, sleep regulates the many hormones that manage your mood and lacking it can cause chronic anxiety and stress. It also controls the hormones that manage your metabolism, which means that drastic weight changes are also well associated with sleeplessness. General mental function can begin the deteriorate, too, with long-term changes to memory, decision-making, and reasoning abilities. Sleep is also associated with high blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Get out under the sun
A big part of getting a good night’s sleep is maintaining the body’s internal clock. Our body knows when to sleep when to wake, and when to eat naturally. But there are several factors that can influence how well it judges these things. One of the factors directly contributing to a body clocks’ performance is the light available to it. Getting out in the sunlight is crucial to getting more sleep. Contact with sunlight physically lets the body know that it’s daytime, keeping the body clock in check and making it more likely to know when it’s nighttime, meaning it can better judge when to start getting ready to sleep. People who get more sunlight tend to be more physically active and to have better mental health, too.
Work on it
That physical exercise is another important part of the day that helps the body get to sleep, too. For one, it’s intuitive to imagine that we’re a lot more likely to fall asleep if our bodies are more tired from a workout. That’s an aspect of it. However, exercise and sleep have an even deeper relationship than just that. Exercise in the morning and the afternoon are part of maintaining that body clock, helping to reset the “sleep-wake cycle”. It raises the temperature of the body, making it more alert and awake, which later leads to a dip that makes us more likely to sleep. In general, exercise also improves sleep quality and duration.
Mind your head
We’ve already mentioned how stress and anxiety are caused by a lack of a good night’s sleep. But their relationship goes the other way, as well. If we’re stressing out and unable to keep our minds from getting distracted or fixated on our problems and our fears, our brains stay much more active. When they’re active, it’s harder to “shut them down” when it comes to bedtime. This can lead something of a self-fulfilling prophecy if we lead it. We can’t sleep because we’re stressed, and we’re more stressed because we can’t sleep. It’s important to find the way to break that cycle. While solving the sources of stress can help, it’s important to learn how to compartmentalize and get a reprieve from unsolved stress, too. There are meditation apps, for instance, that can help you get in a much better mental space in the evenings.
Watch for the interferers
As with just about every element of our health, what we put in our body matters a lot. In particular, there are some bad habits that tend to keep us up a lot more than we think. Nicotine is more than just an indulgence to those addicted to it. It’s a stimulant, and stimulants keep us awake longer. Caffeine has the same issue. You should avoid drinking caffeine in the evenings. But even if you do, addiction to either substance can result in the mind craving and being more alert due to those cravings, which gets in the way of sleep. If you’re having long-term serious sleep problems, then a caffeine detox and efforts to quit smoking can do a lot of good.
Easy on the eyes
We seem to be surrounded by electronic screens more and more. TVs, computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets. We live our lives digitally. But it might be our eyes and our sleep paying the price for it. Blue light can have negative effects that impact sleep a lot. Beyond contributing to stress, it can also lead to eye strain, during which our eyes feel dry, painful, and tired. Both of these are very likely to keep us up at night. If you spend your day working with a computer or in contact with a lot of blue light, there are many styles of glasses that can help reduce your exposure to the blue light. When possible, however, you should avoid any electronics for at least half-an-hour leading up to sleep.
Say no to the naps
When you’ve had a poor night’s sleep, you might find that bed all the more tempting in the day. Indeed, it might feel like “topping up” is the perfect way to get back your equilibrium and make it through the day. As painful as it might sound, however, it could be much more sensible to skip the nap. Naps can be good, from time to time. When you’re experiencing poor sleep quality at night, however, it makes it only more likely to keep the habit up and to exacerbate the issue.
The Goldilocks equation
Not only is it important to save the sleep for night time, it’s also important to make sure that you’re getting the right amount and duration of sleep. Sleeping too much is just as bad for overall sleep quality as sleeping too little is. You should aim for around 5-6 sleep cycles on average, which tends to come out to around 7 ½ to 9 hours. The idea of cycles is an important one here. When we sleep, we tend to drift in and out of deep REM sleep. If we set alarms that interrupt us in the deepest part of that sleep, we feel groggy, less well rested, and more tired throughout the day. There are apps and sites to help you set better times to wake up, instead waking you on the other end of the cycle. You can set alarms to wake you up between these REM cycles, when you’re in the lightest part of your sleep, meaning you feel much more refreshed and take less time to become alert and more mentally aware.
Create the right environment
When you go to bed, make sure you’re going to an environment that’s actually going to help you sleep. In keeping with the previous advice given, avoid keeping any screens in your bedroom if you can help it or make sure they’re out of sight of the bed. Don’t keep a clock facing you as you sleep, as clock-watching is only more likely to keep you awake, aware, and thinking. Block out what sound you can with draft excluders or even using white noise apps. Keep your room cool and dimly lit before bedtime. Consider using aromatherapy scents like lavender to help you drift off, too. Clutter can be a huge factor, too. A messy room with too much in it makes it a much more distracting place to spend time in. Make a quick nighttime clean part of your regular schedule before bed and try a more minimalist décor style in the room if that’s not enough.
Manage a routine
All the factors above should play into the routine you do every night before you go to bed. There are apps that can help you better manage these routines, too. For instance, don’t eat for at least two hours before going to bed. Have a short exercise before you tuck in. Keep all electronic light away from your face for thirty minutes. Try meditating or breathing exercises at the same time, bringing your mood down to a much more peaceful base level. The nighttime ritual is just as important a part of resetting your body clock as anything else. Maintaining that clock throughout the whole day is important, not just in the night time. Regular, routine exercise, set meal times, exposure to sunlight, they all play a role. You can’t just treat sleep like it’s its own problem, it’s part of the greater cycle that your body goes through every single day.
Sleep troubles are one of the most common health complaints amongst adults and in many cases, they are preventable and treatable just by changing your habits.
If your problem is chronic and seemingly impervious to influence, however, it’s time to consider seeing the doctor to see what underlying causes there may be.