By Laine Bergeson
Our busy lives have made it way too normal to skimp on sleep. In fact, some of us even brag about how little sleep we get. There’s no time to sleep! There’s too much to do! But we accept a shortage of sleep at our own peril. Read on to find out why sleep matters, signs you might be suffering from sleep deprivation, and how to fix it.
Why Sleep Matters
Sleep is when our bodies heal, our brains detox, and our metabolism resets. It’s when we process the day’s events and consolidate memories. And then there’s the fact that, while we may skimp on sleep in order to increase productivity, sleep deprivation is associated with decreased productivity, increased absenteeism from work, and more accidents and injuries.
There are long-term consequences of sleep deprivation, too. Otherwise healthy people who experience insufficient or poor-quality sleep for an extended period of time are at increased risk for weight gain, weight loss resistance, high blood pressure, imbalance blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.
The big takeaway? It’s time to get a good night’s sleep. But, first, here’s how to tell if your sleep is unsound.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
How can you tell if your sleep is wonky? There are a few telltale signs and symptoms to watch out for, according to the National Sleep Foundation:
- You have trouble falling asleep after climbing into bed. If it takes you more than half an hour to fall asleep after lights out, this can be a sign of poor sleep quality.
- You wake up two or more times during the night.
- When you wake up in the middle of the night, you are awake for 20 minutes or more before you are able to fall back asleep.
- You have been diagnosed with insomnia or another sleep disorder.
- You feel groggy and yawn a lot the next day.
- You have brain fog and/or you find it hard to concentrate the next day.
- You are irritable, moody, and/or forgetful the next day.
10 Real-Life Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Ready to get the deep, restorative sleep of a third grader? Here are our top tips for better sleep:
1. Don’t eat too close to bedtime.
Eating within 30 minutes to an hour before bed is associated with reduced sleep quality. The process of digestion may divert resources away from the process of falling and staying asleep and heartburn can keep would-be sleepers in pain and awake. In an ideal world? Try to keep at least two hours between your last meal and bedtime.
2. Keep your bedroom cool.
Research shows that a warmer bedroom, means less restorative slow wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep. To improve your chances of getting more high-quality sleep, keep your bedroom cool at night.
3. Turn the lights off (and get some good blinds).
Ambient light from outdoor lamp posts and neighbors’ windows, glowing phone screens and other electronics has a negative influence on sleep. This may be especially true for women. Make sure light emitting devices are flipped over, turned off, or left out of your bedroom altogether. And if you live in a metropolitan area with a lot of bright ambient light outside, invest in light-blocking curtains.
4. Embrace the quiet.
Studies show that nocturnal noise pollution “significantly impairs sleep, objectively and subjectively.” There are a variety of ways to help block out nighttime noise, from white noise machines to ear plugs to soundproof foam wedges for your windows. Running a fan could kill two birds with one stone: It keeps you cool and helps block street noise.
5. Commit to a bedtime routine (no matter how small).
Imagine if a toddler was running around, playing, laughing, toddling, all the things that they do in a day. Now imagine, when it was time for bed, their parent just plopped them into bed, flipped out the lights, and walked away. It would be a hard transition, and it’s the same for adults. We sleep better, and we fall asleep faster, when we have a ritual (or two) that tells the body it is time for bed. It doesn’t have to be much! Try taking a quick bath, putting on a pair of pajamas, or reading in bed for 10 minutes.
6. Don’t drink caffeine past noon.
The buzz we feel from caffeine may wear off in an hour or two, but it circulates in the body for much longer — anywhere from five to ten hours. Switching to decaf drinks after lunch can help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.
7. Stay off electronic devices before bed.
You’ve heard it one million times by now, but it’s worth repeating: The blue light from phone screens and iPads and other devices disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try to tuck away all screens at least an hour before bed.
8. Try not to nap.
Maybe you’re a long-time napper. Maybe working from home has got you napping for the first time. Whatever the case, if you’re prone to naps during the day and you have trouble falling asleep at night, try to cut out naps altogether. Or, if you want a short rest, keep your nap brief, 15 to 20 minutes at most.
9. Cut back on alcohol.
Alcohol does a funny thing when it comes to sleep. You conk out faster, but the sleep you get is lower quality. You’re also more apt to wake up in the middle of the night and not fall back asleep. Try cutting down on alcohol or giving it up some nights to see if your sleep improves.
10. Get a little sun during the day.
Getting just a short amount of direct sunlight, say 10 to 15 minutes, sometime in the morning or around noon each day can help you sleep at night. The daytime sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm and lets your body know when it is time to be awake and when to sleep.