When we have too much on our plate and find ourselves falling behind on our to-do list, sleep is usually the first thing we sacrifice to do other things that we consider more important. Here’s the reality – there’s always going to be something you need to catch up on. But is lack of sleep truly worth the consequence?
Science tells us there are serious effects of poor sleep hygiene and it’s not just your mood, ability to concentrate, or general alertness — although those are certainly important!
Shortening your sleep by a few hours has a serious impact on your health. And if you’re losing sleep more frequently you’re putting yourself at risk for serious health issues including heart disease and stroke.
Why are healthy sleep habits so important?
Before the invention of electricity, scientists believed that the average person slept ten hours a night. I know, hard to believe, right? These days, we find it difficult, if not impossible to hit the recommended eight hours a night.
But why is sleep so important?
Your body needs time to recover, to grow, to repair tissue, and make hormones. But sleep is just as important for the mind. When you sleep, your brain restores itself and stores all of the information it gathered during that day into memories. Sleep is critical for brain function. That’s why people who are deprived of sleep for long periods of time can show signs of psychosis!
Listening to your body
Ever heard the term “circadian rhythms?” Circadian rhythms are the patterns your body goes through in a day — in other words, your body clock.
These rhythms regulate the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin (among other things) and are based on the earth’s rotation. In fact, these rhythms have been ingrained in our DNA since the beginning of humanity.
Our bodies perform best when we follow our body clock, which makes it important to stick to a regular schedule of eating, sleeping, and exercising. Humans crave routine, so it’s no surprise that those who stick to regular schedules often live longer, healthier lives.
The more you stray from your body’s natural rhythms, the more stress your body feels, making you susceptible to disease, illness, and aging. It’s hard to escape biology!
If you suffer from insomnia (poor sleep quality, abnormal wakefulness, or the inability to sleep) you may be tempted to rely on prescription sleep aids or caffeine. The problem with that is those usually just address symptoms, not causes.
Keep a regular sleep schedule
Aim to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning. Many people use the weekends to catch up on sleep they’ve missed during the week. However, this habit often interferes with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Create the ideal sleep environment
Your bedroom should be calm, relaxing, and free from distraction. Make sure your bedroom is dark, the room temperature is cool (between 60 and 67 degrees), and your bedding is comfortable. Sleep masks, room darkening shades, and white noise machines can be great tools to help you achieve a sleep-friendly environment.
Keep electronics to a minimum (or out of your bedroom entirely)
This includes TV, cell phones, laptops, and even alarm clocks (if you tend to obsess over the time when you awaken at night). Electronics also emit a light that is similar to daylight and can trick your body into thinking it’s daytime. Many of these devices delay or decrease the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Make sure your bed is strictly a sleep zone
No catching up on work, checking emails, eating a snack, or surfing the Web. These habits cause your body to associate the bed with wakefulness and disrupt your circadian rhythms.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can make it difficult to go to sleep or stay asleep. Steer clear of coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate. Although many people think that alcohol will induce sleep, after some time it actually acts as a stimulant and disrupts your sleep.