Getting a good night’s rest is one of the most important aspects of living a healthy life. But compared to decades ago, people are getting less sleep altogether. We can’t expect to be in “go-mode” all day and then flip a switch the moment our head hits the pillow to fall into a deep and restful slumber. And so, in our overstimulating world, it is not surprising that over ⅓ of the adult population struggles with sleep deprivation.
Most of us feel the effects of a poor night’s rest on our energy levels or mental performance the next day. But not getting enough hours of sleep or having disrupted rest goes well beyond the obvious.[If you are always tired, but think sleep is not the issue, check out this post all about fatigue]
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation negatively impacts energy, metabolism, hormonal health, mental performance, and so much more. It proves that individuals who do not get enough rest are at increased risk. Many disorders, including high blood pressure, obesity, type-2 diabetes, lowered immunity, cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, dementia, and even loneliness.
For women, sleep deprivation can cause abnormalities in menstruation, fertility, and early pregnancy maintenance. Sleep deprivation conducted this research on shift workers, but it presents the role of circadian rhythms in women’s reproductive health. When sleep becomes dysregulated, it can lead to irregular periods, painful periods, a longer time to get pregnant, a difficult time getting pregnant, a greater risk of miscarriage, and lower birth weights in babies.
Poor sleep causes gastrointestinal issues. It can worsen symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcer disease, liver disease, and colon cancer.
Sleep is important. According to the National Sleep Foundation, young adults (age 18-25 years) and adults (age 26-64 years) should receive 7 to 9 hours of snooze each night, and not less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours (for adults) or 11 hours (for young adults).
But newer evidence shows the health consequences of disrupted sleep may be just as damaging as the consequences of not getting enough hours. And so, sleep quality is also just as important.
Optimizing your sleep quality and circadian rhythm comes back to the basics of physiology. The tips I want to share with you are simple but not always easy to implement. It may mean peeling yourself away from Netflix earlier in the evening, holding yourself accountable, and creating new boundaries. But if your health is a priority, it is time to work on your rest.
My tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. The human body thrives off routine, which is the best way to create a solid circadian rhythm.
- Create a consistent bedtime routine. It should begin about an hour before bedtime and include dimming the lights and turning off all screens. It is a great time to sip on a calming tea, read a book, or practice meditation.
- Expose yourself to bright light, preferably the sun, first thing in the morning. It signals to your brain that it is morning and can help your body set your circadian rhythm, thus helping you relax at night.
- Create a sleep-friendly bedroom. Your room needs to be quiet, dark, and calm for the best nap. Use blackout blinds or a sleep mask and keep your bedroom temperature around 65°F (18.3°C). If your room is loud, use earplugs to block out sound.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol makes you sleepy but doesn’t allow you to get into deeper stages of rest. Caffeine can stay in your system much longer than you can feel its effects, so limit all caffeine after about 12 pm-2 pm to avoid impacting your rest.
- If you haven’t fallen asleep in about 30 minutes, get out of bed, and do something relaxing until the urge to sleep returns. Then try again. If you can’t fall asleep because you’ve got something on your mind, keep a journal by the bed and write your thoughts down before you close your eyes. Keep it handy in case you think of something that you don’t want to forget.
- If you’ve changed time zones, are a shift worker, or are just really struggling to rest well, melatonin can be a helpful tool to get back into a good rhythm.
If you know your sleep could use some work, it is time to put in some effort. I think this is the best prescription anyone could ever wish for from a doctor: sleep more, sleep better. You’re welcome.
To a good night’s sleep,
For some tips on how to manage stress, click here.