The importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overlooked. Sleep provides our body vital time to rest and rejuvenate, healing the body and mind. Living in an “always on” world increases our need to be much more mindful of how and when we are sleeping and what we can do to improve it.
Shockingly, around one-third to half of all Americans suffer from forms of insomnia and poor sleep. Many rely heavily on unnatural and dangerous sleeping pills as a form of quick relief but in turn present life-threatening side-effects. Studies have also found a link between sleeping pills and dementia.
To help we’ve put together this list of five signs to look out for and five natural and healthy ways to regain your sleep.
Similar to stress-eating, when we are sleep deprived we tend to crave fatty, processed foods that are often high in sugar. This is due to an increased production of cortisol, which causes the same physiological reaction as stress-eating. If that wasn’t bad enough your decision-making skills are also affected by a lack of sleep, leading to lower willpower and a tendency to act impulsively. Making it much harder to choose the healthy snack over the chocolate bar!
2) Weight Gain
When you’re craving all things unhealthy so it’s no surprise that studies by Harvard Medical School have found a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Your metabolism is also affected when you don’t get a proper night’s sleep and coupled with over-eating thanks to cravings and a hormonal imbalance, it’s really an uphill battle. And one that is contributing to obesity rates in children as well as adults.
Did you know that sleeping less than 7 hours a night increases your chances of getting sick 3-fold!
A 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine surveyed the sleeping habits of 153 volunteers for 14 days straight. What they found was that the volunteers who got less than 7 hours of sleep were nearly 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those who got 8 hours or more per night. While you’re asleep your immune system produces cytokines, which are proteins that help guard against inflammation and infections. So the less sleep you get the harder it is for your body to fight against viruses.
We all know how hard it is to stay focused when you’re tired and a number of factors can affect our motor skills and memory, making us more forgetful and increasing our clumsiness or chances of making mistakes.
When the body is fatigued the muscles in our eyes are also affected. Lack of sleep tires out the ciliary muscle, which helps your eyes focus making it harder to read, and the ocular muscle that controls up and down and side to side movements of the eye resulting in double vision.
In addition to fatigue prohibiting our ability to function faster recent studies suggest sleep allows the brain to rid itself of unnecessary neural activity, a kind of waste disposal system allowing it to function faster when you’re awake. So when you don’t get enough rest your brain is essentially clogged making it harder to function.
When we are sleep deprived our emotions go hey-wire, ever heard the saying “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”? Well, when you’re tired that’s exactly what’s happening. When you get less than 7 hours of sleep your body is put under a lot of stress from not having the time to regenerate. In turn, you’ll often feel cranky, sad, and stressed out. Continuous lack of sleep can lead to serious mental health problems because it increasing negative thoughts and emotions. If you’ve been feeling anxious recently maybe have a look at your sleeping patterns, once you’ve had a few goods night sleep you might find you’re waking in a much better mood.
1) Sleep Environment
Did you know that the temperature of your room can affect your sleep? The optimal sleeping temperature is between 60-73˚F / 15-22 ˚C as the cold helps to decrease your core body temperature, which helps induce sleepiness. A cold dark room is ideal and any artificial light can also keep you awake. Black-out curtains are a great way to eliminate any light sources outside your window as well as covering any light from clocks or appliances overnight.
You may also find some soothing white noise like can help you sleep. Natural sounds such as rain and the ocean are wonderful ways to fall asleep, you might also enjoy chanting music – anything that helps you zone out and quiet the mind.
Like all things in life, the more you do it the easier it gets. Waking and sleeping at the same time every day is no different and as your body gets used to the cycle you’ll find your sleep improves too.
7-9 hours is optimal so try getting to bed by 10 pm if you like to get up early – plus there are meant to be added benefits to getting to sleep before midnight.
Try installing F.lux on all your computers and devices to reduce blue light. It’s free and might help you sleep better if you’re using computers in the evening.
Exercising at night can lead to alertness so it’s best to get your exercise in the morning. Even if you aren’t trying to get your daily dose of vitamin D you should also aim to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight each day. Wide-spectrum light exposure during the day increases our serotonin levels that in-turn improve melatonin levels at night, helping us sleep.
4) Eat right
In much the same way as foods can impact health in other areas, foods can also affect the quality of our sleep. An Alkaline diet which includes the consumption of healthy fats, high-antioxidant food’s and quality proteins can all help aid a good night’s sleep.
Avoiding caffeine after 1-2pm is also a good habit to get into, in addition to avoiding sugars and artificial additives.
5. Vitamins & Supplements
While it’s always better to get your vitamins and minerals from food if you are still having trouble sleeping you may like to try some vitamin supplements like magnesium or healthy fats like omega 3 and coconut oil. Other natural remedies include essential oils, Valerian Root and even St Johns Wort.