If you chase your morning grogginess down with coffee each morning, you’re like millions of Americans. What you may not know is that not getting enough sleep can have an adverse effect on your physical and mental health. There are many different theories out there to explain why our bodies require sleep, but most of them seem to center around restoration – that is – mental, emotional, and physical restoration. And either a lack of quantity or quality of sleep can hinder restoration. If you’ve ever had a really bad night of sleep, you probably recall being in a bad mood for the rest of the day. That’s because sleep also affects our moods. And a lack of sleep (quantity or quality) can contribute to mental illnesses, such as depression and psychosis.
Fortunately, there’s a good possibility you don’t have a sleep disorder (such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea) and your quality and quantity of sleep can be vastly improved by simply taking some small measures like:
- Start a sleep ritual – Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each night can help your body be more in tune with your “internal clock”.
- Turn your lights out, all of them – Our society is filled with electronics emitting light that can alter our “internal clocks” (that make us feel awake when it’s light outside and tired when it’s dark outside). Everyone is different, so it’s best to make your own policy regarding when you stop watching television or surfing the internet. For example, let’s say you want to start sleeping at 11pm so you implement a mental policy saying no electronics after 9pm (smart phones included).
- Limit caffeine/alcohol – Are you aware of the amount of caffeine you consumereach day? You should be. Everyone’s body reacts differentlyto caffeine so we each have a different tolerance, but for some people even the cup of joe in the morning can affect our sleep several hours later at night. This is especially true if you are consuming caffeine at night. Caffeine is a stimulant. The whole idea of sleep is to relax our bodies and minds. Caffeine interferes with relaxation. Concerning alcohol, although late night consumption of alcohol may help us fall asleep, it greatly reduces our quality of sleep (via frequent awakenings at night, for example).
- Limit stress – Stress and anxiety can hinder sleep quality/quantity. If you’ve ever experienced a night when you have a lot on your mind or feel anxious about something happening the next day, it was probably a long night with little sleep. A good way to limit stress is to particpate in some stress-reducing activities. Exercise a couple hours before sleep has been shown to improve sleep. Meditation and/or reading before sleep can help our bodies and minds relax.
- Avoid sleeping pills, they aren’t always the answer – Over-the-counter sleeping pills may provide immediate relief, but eventually our bodies become used to them and the effect wears off. It’s best to resolve such issues naturally, if possible.
I’ve found that these simple steps, among others, are the best way to tackle problems with sleep. However, if you have good habits and still aren’t able to fall asleep or remain asleep and feel fatigued each day, you may have a sleeping disorder that requires medical attention.
Do you have any sleep-well tips? Let us know and we’ll share the best in next week’s post!
Until then, sleep well!