Sleep, that beautiful thing most of us do (or should be doing) for 7-8 hours every night (with the exception of a minority group of lucky people that only need 5-6 hours of sleep every night to feel at their best and perform at an optimal level) is wonderful rest for our bodies and minds. In today’s busy lifestyles, to many people juggling multiple responsibilities and roles, sufficient restful sleep can seem like a dream. It is widely known that good quality sleep is related to better mental health and that sleep disturbances or sleep deprivation is a common symptom in most mental health disorders and highly stressed individuals. An irregular sleeping pattern or poor quality sleep have various adverse side effects on people’s productivity, mood and on having a well-balanced lifestyle.
Benefits of regular sleep schedule
Keeping a regular sleep schedule has many advantages. It helps us wake up feeling energized and ready to tackle the day while reducing our stress. By balancing our biological clock, we become more alert (better concentration), in turn, increasing performance and productivity at school or work. Balanced sleep reduces the risk of depression while improving positive mood and maintaining a strong immune system to prevent and fight off sickness. In fact, the term “beauty sleep” has real a connotation; meaning sleep restores and regenerates the body, including your skin and muscle tissue, slowing the aging process resulting in more radiant skin, fewer wrinkles and dark circles under eyes. Besides improving physical appearance, sound sleeping can help you maintain your weight, keeps your heart healthy, help to prevent diabetes, gives your memory a boost and heightens creativity. These are only some of the many benefits of keeping a regular sleep schedule.
Better sleep strategies
Reversal to these benefits comes from sleep deprivation. Most research indicates that adults need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep a night. We know that prolonged sleep deprivation has severe disadvantages and several health risks. If this is an issue for you, you may want to start making some positive changes to regain a regular sleep routine and start sleeping better.
Here are some suggestions you may find useful (www.sleepfoundation.com):
- Develop a bedtime routine: Stop studying/working and don’t get into any stimulating discussions or activities a ½-1 hour before bed. Do something relaxing-read “light” material, play an instrument, listen to quite music, catch a mindless TV show. Find your own sleep-promoting routine.
- Warm bath NOT a shower: Take a long, hot bath before going to bed. This helps relax and soothe your muscles. Showers, on the other hand, tend to wake you up. Insomniacs should avoid showers in the evening.
- Write “To Do” List: If you think of something you want to remember, jot it down. Then let the thought go. There will be no need to lie awake worrying about remembering what you need to do tomorrow or later on.
- Dinner: Some sleep centers advise you to make the evening meal the major meal of the day. Schedule it at least 4 hours before bedtime so your digestive system will be reasonably quiet by the time you’re ready to sleep.
- Warm milk: It helps some people to have a glass at bedtime. Milk has an essential amino acid, tryptophan, which stimulates the brain chemical serotonin, believed to play a key role in inducing sleep. A piece of whole wheat bread, or another carbohydrate, enhances the effect.
- Avoid caffeine, tyrosine-rich foods from late afternoon: Caffeine, a chemical in coffee, colas, tea, chocolate, etc., causes hyperactivity and wakefulness. Some sleep laboratories encourage people to avoid such tyrosine-laden foods as fermented cheeses (cheddar is about the worst; cottage cheese and yogurt are Ok).
- Exercise: Keep physically active during the day. This is especially important the day after a bad night’s sleep. Strenuous exercise (brisk walking, swimming, jogging, squash, etc.) in late afternoon seems to promote more restful sleep.
- Stretch and relaxation: Some people find that a gentle stretching routine for several minutes just before getting into bed helps induce sleep. Others practice relaxation techniques. The internet is filled with information on stretching or relaxation routines.
- Set a bedtime schedule: Go to bed at about the same time every night. Be regular. Go to bed later when you are having trouble sleeping. If you’re only getting 5 hours of sleep a night during an insomnia period, don’t go to bed until just 5 hours before your wake-up time. Make the time you spend in bed is sleep time.
- Never oversleep: Never oversleep because of a poor night’s sleep. This is the most crucial rule and common mistake. Get up at about the same time every day, especially on the morning after you’ve lost sleep. Sleeping late for just a couple of days can reset your body’s clock to a different cycle –you’ll be getting sleepy later and waking up later.
Is Your Environment Conducive for Sleep?
- Room temperature: Sleep in a cool room (60 degrees or so). Pile on another blanket or add one under the mattress pad rather than turn up the heat. Do keep it cool to sleep better.
- Noise: Some people seem to sleep better if there is a white noise — a fan running, for example – in the background. For others, noise can interrupt sleep. Try particular kinds of music to block out the noise. Play music that has no words, no definite melody, and no extreme variations in volume (ex. Baroque music). There are many sounds that aid sleep by quieting the mind, emotions, and body. YouTube sleep music and you will get lists.
- In bed and unable to sleep? If you are in bed and unable to sleep, many experts suggest getting completely out of bed, sitting in a chair, and reading, writing letters, or doing some quiet activity. As you get sleepy, go back to bed and use a relaxation technique to fall asleep. Make your bed is a place to sleep, not a place to get other things done.
- Not managing stress very well? Difficulty in managing normal, everyday stress in life is a common problem for many. A frequent reaction to daily stresses is insomnia. Good stress-management strategies help you learn how to manage those frequent stressors and go through each day more smoothly.
Sleep needs vary from one person to another. Some need only 5 hours per night to feel rested and function well, but others seem to need 8 hours. Experiment to find the amount of sleep you need. Remember, too, that the amount of sleep you need will vary in different times in your life. Your need for sleep may decrease and your ability to go to sleep may improve when you are exercising regularly and doing things you enjoy. You may need more sleep and experience more sleeplessness if you are under more stress or as you become less active. Be gentle with yourself, instead of trying to force yourself to sleep, make some changes that will help you sleep better. Have a Good Sleep!
For more information on Sleep and healthy habits, visit www.sleepfoundation.org