If you’ve ever tried to face the day with little to no sleep, it’s likely you felt the effects both physically and mentally. And if you are like many Americans, not getting enough sleep is all too common. The CDC recommends seven or more hours per night for best health and wellbeing, but nearly half of us are falling short.
It’s hard enough for a healthy person to function well without sleep, but for those who are already suffering from a medical condition like dementia, Parkinson’s, or arthritis, lack of sleep can make already unpleasant symptoms feel even worse.
It’s no shock to learn that good sleep is essential to our health, but it may surprise you just how much of an impact it has. Keep reading to learn more about the purpose of sleep. and how you can improve sleep habits for optimal health for you and your family.
Why do we need sleep?
In a general sense, sleep allows your body and your mind to rest and recover from the day. But more specifically, a lot happens within the body while we’re snoozing – starting with the brain. A healthy amount of sleep is important for the brain to adapt to new information. During the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, your brain files long-term memory and sorts out the vital information from the not-so-important. Without enough sleep, you become unable to process what you’ve learned and have issues remembering the information in the future. And if the REM cycle is shortchanged, you may feel cranky and your mental focus may be reduced. Studies suggest that sleep may promote the removal of waste products from brain cells, a process that seems to be less efficient when the brain is awake.
Getting proper sleep can also help with heart issues. Processes like glucose metabolism and conditions such as blood pressure and inflammation (both of which impact heart health) are affected when you don’t get enough sleep. Those who don’t sleep well or enough tend to report health problems like obesity and high pressure – both risk factors for heart issues.
Your overall health and wellness are impacted by the amount of sleep you get, too. Proper sleep can also help your body better regulate hormone levels, boost your metabolism, and improve immunity. All of which has been shown to stave off all kinds of health conditions and illnesses. Poor sleep can hurt your health indirectly over time by raising stress levels, giving you less motivation to be physically active. This can contribute to making unhealthy food choices. All of which are precursors to a variety of health issues.
Research shows who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems. So it’s crucial to make an effort to establish good sleep habits.
Tips for better & longer sleep
Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in quality of life. There are many factors that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep and even though most are within your control, it can still be challenging. Here are some ways you can create the ideal conditions for healthy sleep:
Create a sleep-inducing environment:
- Control the temperature of the bedroom – ideally between 60-67 degrees
- Avoid bright lights in the evening
- Have a comfortable mattress and pillows
- As much as possible, keep the bedroom quiet
- If you’re in a noisy environment, consider a sound machine or use an app designed to help you sleep to create a more soothing atmosphere
Develop good habits:
- Reserve your bed for sleeping, try not to use it for work or other activities
- Stay active during the day (but not too close to bedtime)
- Limit daytime naps, and if napping is needed, limit the length
- Stick to a schedule of waking each day, even on the weekends if possible
- Try to resolve any worries or anxiety prior to going to bed
- Allow some time to wind down by switching to calming activities closer to bedtime
- Establish a bedtime routine, avoiding screens and stressful or exciting activities
- Avoid going to be bed hungry or “stuffed” and take caution with nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol use close to bedtime
- Consider aromatherapy (lavender is a soothing smell) or a cup of sleepy time tea
If it’s your parent or loved one who is struggling with getting enough sleep and you are unable to be there to help them, consider bringing in an in-home caregiver. They’ll be able to help them prepare, remind them about the dos and don’ts, and keep them active during the day so they’re ready for sleep.
If the prep work is complete and you’re still having trouble sleeping, move to another room and do a calming activity until you feel tired. It is normal to have an occasional sleepless night, but if it becomes commonplace, be sure to talk to your doctor about it.
You may also want to consider recording your patterns in a sleep diary to give your health care provider a better picture of what is happening. Fitness trackers may also be able to provide some insights into your nighttime routine. And if all else fails, your doctor can advise you on sleep aids that might be right for you. The good news is that sleep is something you can actively work on improving and help your parent or loved one with their routines as well. And when sleep improves, you feel the results right away, which helps reinforce habit building.
Which of these tips will you try to get better sleep? Share your strategy with our community in the comments. And check out some of our other posts on health issues like stress relief and eating for better immunity.
- Healthy Sleep Tips. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/healthy-sleep-tips
- How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sleep.htm
- Sleep: The foundation for healthy habits. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep-the-foundation-for-healthy-habits/art-20270117
- How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Heart. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/health-impact/how-sleep-deprivation-affects-your-heart/
- Sleep Science. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy-sleep/sleep-science/the-science-of-sleep-understanding-what-happens-when-you-sleep
- Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379