Did you know that approximately 70% of Americans have some type of sleep disorder?
According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over a third of Americans reported getting less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
A National Sleep Foundation survey found that 45% of Americans stated that their daily activities had been affected in some way in the past 7 days due to a lack of sleep.
Initially, reading figures like these may give you a sense of comfort – “It’s not just me then who’s having an almighty struggle trying to sleep at night”.
However, I would suggest this is definitely one phenomenon where it’s best not be part of the crowd.
Sleep helps to coordinate certain functions of the mind and body, such as mood, appetite, alertness, hormone regulation, your immune system, and so much more.
So, let’s not waste anymore time and take a look at how to improve sleep quality.
1. Are You Taking Time to Wind Down Before Going to Sleep?
We seem to be under the illusion that the second we jump into bed and our head hits the pillow that we’re going to fall soundly asleep.
However, in order to sleep, firstly certain bodily functions are required to slow down and decrease. These include your heart rate, your brainwaves, your body’s temperature, and even your breathing.
So, it’s important to almost “tell” your brain and your body that it’s time to sleep. There are various ways to do this, such as reading a book, taking a warm shower, listening to relaxing music, or anything else you may find soothing.
Let me take you back in time to your childhood for a moment.
Do you remember having a soothing and relaxing bedtime routine?
Do you recall bath time?
This was the perfect signal to your brain that the time for sleep was fast approaching. You would have your bath, then get into your pajamas, and you knew the day had come to a natural conclusion. It was time for bed.
Fast forward to adult life – What cues or messages are you currently sending to your brain to signal that it’s bedtime?
And no, telling yourself, “just one more episode of Stranger Things or BoJack Horseman doesn’t count.
Which leads me nicely onto the next step.
Is Your Bedroom a Treasure Trove of Electronics?
Okay, I’ll be the first to concede that I’d be completely lost without my smartphone. The entire world is literally at my fingertips. That’s all well-and-good, except for when I’m trying to get to sleep.
Go on, admit it, you’re no different!
It’s not just smartphones either, the same can be said for laptops, TVs, kindles, tablets, and any other electronic device. Plain and simple they really shouldn’t be in the bedroom.
It has been scientifically proven that the blue light waves emitted from these devices throw our circadian rhythm out of sync (this is the body’s 24-hour internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle).
The body produces melatonin, a sleep hormone, as it gets darker and this tells our brain that the time to turn in is almost upon us.
However, the brain will liken the light of an electronic device to that of the sun. This in turn will suppress the production of melatonin, meaning that our brain actually thinks it’s time to be alert and awake.
The use of these devices is also a way to stimulate the brain.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s your boss sending you a late-night email (how dare he), or if Natalie is crying on Facebook because she’s split up with Chris… again (oh come on Natalie, that’s the fourth time this year), or if you’re dying to know what’s going to happen to Pennsatucky on the next episode of Orange is the New Black.
All these things are activating, stimulating and arousing the brain, which is not conducive to sleep.
Your electronic time should end at the very least 30 minutes before you go to bed, although you’ll get a much better night’s sleep if you make this an hour or two.
But Alcohol Makes Me Tired
Yes indeed, alcohol makes you feel drowsy and you may even fall asleep quickly, but you’re not getting the right kind of sleep.
A stage of sleep, such as REM sleep, when you dream, plays a massive role in reinvigorating and revitalizing the mind and the body for the following day.
So, REM really were Shiny, Happy People.
Alcohol also tends to wear off as the night goes on, so the quality of your sleep is once again affected.
You’ll probably find yourself in the lighter stages of sleep, which is usually when you start to fidget, to toss and turn, and eventually wake yourself up.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a couple of drinks in the evening, whether you’re at home, the local bar, or enjoying 2-for-1 cocktails at some fancy joint.
However, the closer you drink alcohol to your bedtime, the worse it will be for you and your night’s sleep.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that alcohol will knock you out and help you sleep. You may well be away with the fairies sooner than usual, but the quality of your sleep will be very poor.
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What’s Your Caffeine Intake Like?
How many of you start your day with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning?
It doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, as coffee contains the drug caffeine (yes, it’s a drug), which is a stimulant.
So, your morning cup of joe will definitely make you feel more awake and alert. You’ll receive a temporary hit of caffeine, which will suppress any sleep-inducing chemicals and increase the production of adrenaline in the body.
A recent survey suggests that 85% of Americans enjoy at least one caffeinated beverage on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, let’s be honest with each other here – How many of you stick to just one cup of coffee a day?
We typically drink a lot more and may even be tempted to throw in the odd can of Red Bull to deal with that late afternoon slump.
Firstly, I will say that if you are drinking a few cups of coffee a day and it isn’t having an adverse effect on your sleeping habits, that’s fine.
Our bodies are all individually, slightly different to each other in various ways, and therefore some of you will be less affected by caffeine than others.
However, for those of you struggling to get a peaceful night’s sleep, it may be time to limit the amount of coffee you consume, or even knock it on the head altogether.
It takes approximately 6 hours for the caffeine from one cup of coffee to be eliminated from the body. Realistically you should be having your last cup of coffee for the day at around 2pm-3pm.
The reason I mention this time period is not because I’m expecting you to go to bed at some ridiculously early hour, but simply because, is this “final cup” the only cup of coffee you’ve had all day? The top-up effect.
Better still, there are people who swear by just drinking coffee during the morning hours. Once that clock strikes midday there isn’t a latte or a mocha in sight.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult
I am very much an advocate for making lifestyle changes to improve the quality of your sleep.
Yet some lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, starting to exercising more, etc. can seem like a real effort.
The above steps are just the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty more things you can do to help yourself get a better night’s sleep. However, they may not be as easy as the above steps.
So from today/tonight, I urge you to make one small, simple change and see how peaceful a night’s rest you have.
The body can only take so much, for so long. Eventually the lack of quality sleep will take its toll.
For some further reading please check out this FREE Guide to the Health Risks of Sleep Deprivation