When I think about it, it’s kind of funny. When we’re children, we resist going to bed or taking naps, but as older adults, we want to go to bed early and view naps as a wonderful treat.
While we all need sleep to thrive, many of us simply don’t get enough of it. Whether it’s too-busy schedules, addiction to screens, interrupted sleep or issues sleeping, we often have limited shut-eye, which can lead to even more problems during our waking hours.
But there are ways you can sleep better, and your health and quality of life will benefit.
Effects of Not Enough Sleep
Sleep is just as important to your health and well-being as exercise and proper nutrition. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can lead to:
- Irritability and moodiness
- Anxiety and depression
- Lack of concentration and forgetfulness
- Impaired coordination and balance
- Weight gain
- Higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke
- Weakened immune system
While individuals vary in terms of how much sleep they need, experts recommend from 6-9 hours per night for most adults. Children typically need more sack time.
How to Sleep Better
- Turn off electronics – The blue light from cell phones, tablets, computers and some clocks can actually inhibit sleep, so ideally turn them off one hour before bedtime. Of course, be sure to put your phone in sleep mode when you retire for the night so that you’re not awoken from incoming notifications, texts or calls.
- Limit naps – I love naps, but the key is to keep them at 20 minutes or less so as not to interrupt nighttime slumber. If necessary, a short catnap can help you overcome an afternoon slump, but skip naps if you are struggling to sleep during the night.
- Adopt a bedtime ritual – Don’t exercise, watch a scary movie or take on a heated argument just before bed. If possible, lower the lights, take a bath, drink chamomile tea or read a book – or practice ways that help you relax, such as meditation, prayer or soft music.
- Block out light and noise – To help you get to sleep and stay asleep, try room darkening curtains or shades, along with a fan or a white noise app or machine. Some people like sleep masks and/or earbuds as well.
- Get comfortable – This should be obvious, but wear loose PJs that keep you cool or warm; keep the temperature of the room 68-72 degrees; replace pillows and mattresses as they wear out, or just try new ones; experiment with different materials in sheets, blankets and comforters to find those that work best for you; and move the dog or cat over or onto its own bed so you have adequate space to stretch out.
- Stick to a schedule – It’s not always possible, but try to go to bed and wake up at the same time to keep your system on track. This can be tough on weekends or on vacations, but it’s the best way to set your body’s clock and improve sleep habits.
- Check your diet – Don’t eat a big heavy meal just before bed. And while alcohol is a depressant, its effects wear off during the night so that you’re more likely to have interrupted sleep. Cut caffeine out in the afternoon or late in the day, and ideally, stop drinking any fluids about two hours before going to bed to minimize middle-of-the-night bathroom visits.
- Exercise and get outside – Get exposure to sunlight (or artificial bright light) and exercise during the day to help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms.