Sleep: The Essential Guide to Getting a Great Night’s Rest
Sleep is an integral part of maintaining good health and helping us recharge our batteries. It increases alertness, and keeps us happier and more energized. But when insomnia strikes, what’s the best way to combat it and make sure to get a good night’s shut-eye?
Along with access to food, water and oxygen, sleep is one of the most fundamental human needs. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can have a variety of adverse physical and cognitive effects. Degradation of fine motor skills and reaction times, impaired judgement, reduced short term memory and inattention are but a few of the negative consequences when the human body is denied sleep for extended periods of time.
Whilst the exact reasons as to why we sleep are contentious, few would disagree that they feel better after a good night’s rest. There are many important benefits to being well rested; in fact, many of the human body’s restorative functions such as protein synthesis, tissue repair, muscle growth and growth hormone release occur primarily – and in many cases exclusively – during sleep.
Many people experience the occasional bout of sleeplessness, but by following a few simple suggestions, it’s easy to get a great night’s sleep and wake up invigorated and ready to take on the challenges of a new day.
Consider Your Diet
It should be common sense by now that what people put into their body has a direct effect on how it functions, and this is equally true when ensuring a quality night’s rest. In order to promote good sleep there are a few simple suggestions:
Reduce Consumption of Caffeine – As a stimulant, caffeine is designed to improve alertness which is why so many people reach for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Removing sources of caffeine from your diet, especially late in the afternoon or the evening should be one of the first considerations when looking to improve quality of sleep.
Avoid Alcohol Before Bed – As a depressant, alcohol can cause drowsiness, but ultimately has negative impacts on the body’s natural sleep patterns. Alcohol consumption can disrupt the sequence and duration of sleep states, preventing us from entering the deeper stages of sleep, which leads to lesser-quality rest.
Have a Snack Before Bed – Certain foods contribute to restful sleep, whilst others have the opposite effect. By consuming foods that contain an amino acid called tryptophan, you can help your brain manufacture the important sleep inducing chemicals melatonin and serotonin. Carbohydrate-rich snacks like crackers, a piece of toast or some dried fruits can be a great way to induce that familiar sleepy feeling many experience after a large meal, and help you drift off more easily.
Get Regular Exercise
Regular exercise has a host of positive health benefits like controlling weight, reducing cholesterol and combating chronic disease, but many people don’t realize that an active lifestyle can also contribute positively to a restful night’s sleep. By engaging in aerobic exercise, individuals can fall asleep quicker and move into deeper sleep cycles for a longer period of time.
Supporting this assertion is a study conducted by the Feinberg School of Medicine. Researchers discovered that participants engaging in aerobic exercise were best able to overcome their sleep problems; during the study, they reported better quality of sleep lasting for longer periods of time.
These participants also reported greater vitality, higher levels of alertness and less depressive symptoms.
Keeping Regular Sleeping Patterns
The body’s natural sleeping and waking cycle is referred to as the circadian rhythm. By keeping inconsistent or interrupted sleeping patterns, it is more difficult for the body to effectively regulate how and when to go to sleep. Many people that engage in shift work experience difficulty in sleeping due to the irregularity of their patterns, to the point that there is a disorder named after the condition: Shift Work Insomnia Disorder. Many people experience a similar state when travelling across time zones and suffering from jetlag.
Maintaining regular and reliable sleeping patterns is one of the best ways to improve your sleep. By going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each morning, even during weekends, you are able to keep a steadier circadian rhythm and your body can naturally shift into a more reliable pattern of sleep.
When people experience anxiety, they may lose out on regular, restful sleep. With a racing mind full of worries and concerns, it’s no surprise that deep sleep can be difficult to sleep achieve. However, many anxiety sufferers have found that engaging in regular meditation can assist with clearing the mind and coming into a more restful state.
Studies conducted by the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Ilinois in 2009 have indicated that patients practicing deep relaxation techniques such as meditation during the day experienced better quality sleep in the evenings. The research focused on patients with insomnia, and found that “sleep latency, total sleep time, total wake time, wake after sleep onset, sleep efficiency, sleep quality and depression improved in patients who used meditation.”
Turn to the Dark Side
There is an ample body of evidence suggesting that sleeping in complete darkness is the best way to ensure a quality night’s rest. Artificial light acts as a suppressant of your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, and even small amounts of light from a digital clock can disrupt sleep. Keeping your bedroom quiet and dark is an important part of setting up an ideal environment for sleeping, so the use of blackout curtains or an eye mask can contribute positively to getting a restful night’s sleep.
There are a number of other steps that can help to prime the body for sleep, such as ensuring that the TV and computer are turned off well before bedtime. By only using the bedroom for sleeping, rather than working on the computer or watching television, you are actively training your body to associate physically getting into bed with mentally falling asleep.
Like caffeine, nicotine is a powerful stimulant and whilst heavily addicted users may awaken with a craving for cigarettes, tobacco products can affect sleep in many ways. In case you needed another reason to stop smoking, by eliminating nicotine you’re removing a powerful stimulant that can keep your brain wired and disrupt sleeping patterns.
A 2009 German study uncovered interesting information related to sleep and nicotine: “Primarily symptoms of insomnia, such as increased sleep latency, sleep fragmentation and decreased slow wave sleep with reduced sleep efficiency and increased daytime sleepiness, were observed during nicotine consumption.”
Of course if you are unsuccessful in alleviating your sleep problems or are troubled by persistent daytime sleepiness or fatigue over a long period of time, it may be necessary to consult a doctor for further information. Medical professionals are best positioned to make a medical assessment of a sleep disorder, treat illnesses or medical conditions, or assess if the insomnia is a side effect from another medication or disorder.