How important is sleep? The National Sleep Foundation, which unsurprisingly takes sleep very seriously, puts it like this: sleep is “as important to our health and well-being as air, food and water. And, as WebMD reports, a lack of sleep can contribute to a whole host of issues ranging from simple daytime drowsiness all the way up to serious health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Although it’s no surprise to most people that not getting enough (7-8 hours) sleep can send you into a drowsy tailspin, the quality of sleep that you are getting is as important, if not more important than the quantity. What good is eight hours if six of those hours are restless half-sleep?
Here are some tips to get a better night’s rest consistently.
Stick to your routine
Crashing at 9 p.m. one night, 1 a.m. the next, 11 p.m. the next, and so on will wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. Not only does this throw off your body’s sleep-wake cycle, if you still have to get up at the same time every morning, it will erode your sleep bank. If you feel like your mood and performance are suffering from lack of sleep, make going to bed at the same time every night a priority. It might not be exciting and it might cut some of your social engagements short, but if your physical or mental health is suffering, you’ve got to put sleep first.
If you can’t go to sleep, get up, and come back to bed
If you have trouble falling asleep at your routine time, rather than lying in bed awake for an hour, try getting up and doing something calm and relaxing, and then coming back to bed and trying again. The key, though, is to do something calm and relaxing. Don’t watch TV, start a project in the kitchen, or do anything stimulating that you will keep thinking about while lying in bed. Do some stretching, fold a few clothes, or put away a few dishes.
Put away your smart phone, tablet, or e-reader
Gazing into a bright screen before bed can disrupt your sleep, especially if you’re a teenager. The blue light from these devices prevents the release of melatonin, the hormone associated with nighttime that makes you want to sleep. Likewise, avoid regular computer or laptop usage right before your normal bedtime.
Watch out for alcohol
Although a couple glasses of wine or a cocktail might make you drowsy, alcohol reduces the kind of REM (rapid eye movement sleep) that contributes to quality sleep. REM sleep is more mentally restorative, according to WebMD, and you are more likely to wake up during REM sleep if you’ve been consuming alcohol.
…and watch your sodium intake
Although sodium itself won’t keep you awake, too much sodium—even that which can sneak into your diet through processed foods—causes your body to retain fluid. Fluid retention (water retention) can cause disturbances in your sleep. Excess fluid in your body can settle in you upper airways and cause sleep apnea—shallow breathing or pauses in breathing during sleep, which can cause you to wake up repeatedly.
Cover your clock
Many people are tempted to glance at the clock when they wake up in the middle of the night in order to gauge how much longer they have to sleep. This can cause your brain to become active and your body restless as you begin to think about what lies ahead of you in the morning at work, school, or even in your home life—whether stressful or fun. Likewise, your brain may begin to reason that there’s no point in going back to sleep if there’s only 30 minutes until the alarm goes off. You need those 30 minutes. Turn the clock around so that you can’t see it.
“Duh, you might think, but even if you don’t drink coffee, you might be consuming hidden sources of caffeine, including chocolate, pain relievers, weight loss pills, energy drinks, and even products labeled as “decaf can have trace amounts of caffeine.
Exercise is awesome, but not so much right before bed
By no means do we want to discourage anyone from exercising, but exercising right before bed can keep you awake. Any vigorous exercise should be finished 3 or 4 hours before bedtime. If you need some physical activity close to bedtime, consider Yoga or tai chi, followed by meditation.
Try to avoid lots of fluids a couple of hours before bed
The more you drink, the more you’ll need to wake up and pee (of course). And it’s not just the peeing, it’s the cold tile floor and the light (consider a nightlight) that make it even harder to go back to bed.