Most people spend more than one-third of their lives asleep. Restful sleep – and the right amount of it – is critical to long-term health. During sleep, the body repairs itself so you are refreshed to start the next day. Poor sleep affects the brain’s ability to retain and process information.
Lack of sleep shows up immediately in the morning, with dark circles under the eyes. Foggy awareness and memory in the morning leads to difficulty staying alert throughout the day. The effects are worse for those who struggle with chronic sleep problems, causing strained relationships due to moodiness. Long-term sleep deprivation also holds greater risks for automobile and occupational injury, depression, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
The average person should get at least eight hours of sleep, but the truth is a lot of us toss and turn throughout the night. However, there are proven tricks to getting better sleep.
1. Trade the Nightcap for Chamomile Tea
Whether it’s your grandmother’s hot toddy, a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey by the bed, the nightcap is a classic image many associate with helping reach the state of sleep. Alcohol is a depressant, and most know that depressants put you to sleep. When it comes to the nightcap, there is a vast difference between falling asleep and passing out.
Alcohol takes away the ease into sleep through our dreams, which is a vital part of the process to getting restful sleep. Many come to rely on the nightcap. The effects of sleep deprivation worsen with nightcap-induced sleep, especially when adding dehydration to fatigue.
Chamomile is an herbal medicine of the past scientifically proven to help treat sleep problems, insomnia and anxiety. Switch up the nightcap with a cup of chamomile tea.
2. Massage Yourself With Lavender
Lavender helps restless people fall asleep. According to old wives’ tales, people would sleep with small sachets or pillows of lavender to soothe the body to sleep. Scientific evidence shows that aromatherapy with lavender helps people sleep by promoting relaxation and better sleep quality. Small studies support the use of lavender for massage to assist with anxiety and improved sleep. In one study, participants noted better mood and improved sleep quality with a massage using lavender essential oil compared to those who didn’t receive the massage.
3. Stay Off Your Cellphone and Away From Electronics Before Bed
Did you know that tablets, smartphones and other electronics emit a blue light that affects a very small area of the brain – the Suprachiastmatic Nucleus – negatively? This nucleus is in the hypothalamus and is responsible for regulating circadian rhythms, which includes your sleep cycle.
The more you stare at your phone, the more you offset your sleep cycle. The SCN will produce less melatonin and cause sleep disruptions. Apps like the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock will wake you up naturally during your lightest sleep phase, which helps you feel more well-rested.
Make it a rule: No electronics an hour before bed. One study reveals that limiting TV before bed greatly improves sleep.
If you have to be on your phone, or find the transition difficult, install an app that filters the light differently. The f.lux app helps with bright computer screens. Try Twilight for Android cellphone screens. Most cellphones and computers have adjustment settings for light. Reducing the brightness will help either way.
4. Get More Fresh Air
Exposure to more fresh air daily, especially during daylight hours, helps regulate the body’s internal clock. Those who work indoors all day, away from windows and are stuck at the computer, suffer the most. In one study, 22 office workers with daylight window exposure tended toward more physical activity and improved sleep compared to 27 office workers who had no natural light exposure.
Find a seat by the window at work, or go for a walk during your break. Getting more fresh air improves your sleep, productivity and overall health.
5. Establish a Routine Before Sleep
Going to bed at different times negatively affects your circadian rhythm. Set a regular bedtime and wakeup time, even on the weekends. Ease into sleep with a bedtime ritual: write in a journal, read a book or take a walk. Begin by dimming the lights one hour before bed. Make yourself a cup of chamomile tea. Whatever you decide to do, keep your routine consistent.
6. Limit or Eliminate Caffeine
Make it a rule: No caffeine after 4 p.m. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 10 hours, affecting your internal clock. Mornings and early afternoons are best for consumption. While it will make you more alert, caffeine also inhibits sleep. Coffee isn’t the culprit – it’s the degree of consumption.
7. Satisfy Sleep and Your Munchies With Magnesium
This element is vital to sleep, and magnesium deficiency is scientifically linked to disrupted sleep. Supplements are an option, but consider natural sources of magnesium, such as leafy greens like kale and Swiss chard. Sunflower seeds, oatmeal, molasses, dates, coriander and wild salmon are good sources for magnesium.
8. Get Tested for Sleep Disorders and Seek Treatment
When disrupted sleep becomes a chronic pattern, you may have a sleep disorder, such as circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders or sleep-related breathing disorders. It is important to seek treatment because some disorders are also linked to heart health and sometimes prove fatal. Sleep disorders can be treated by working with professionals to reset your sleep schedule, developing healthy sleep practices and taking prescribed medications.
9. Adjust to What Works for You
The 9-5 workday isn’t natural for the body. Humans are still adjusting to this schedule. Consider that you are better suited to a different schedule. While this makes daily life more challenging, many adjust their day and night schedules accordingly and are happy. Some people find that they get plenty of restful sleep, but society is programmed differently.
As you age, your sleep cycles change and adjust to your life. Yet, you spend one-third of your life dreaming and probably another third of that worrying about if you’re sleeping enough.
Stop trying to force yourself to sleep, and work with your body. Discover what works for you, and get the rest your body deserves. Your body and your life will see the benefits.