Sleep is vital for good health, but most of us don't get enough of it. At least 60 million Americans are affected by insomnia, and two-thirds of chronic pain patients have sleep issues. Even those who are able to sleep well are simply not sleeping enough. Busy lives mean that we push ourselves to stay up later and get up earlier. Read on to learn how to sleep better every night.
Why is sleep so important? Short sleepers-people who get six or fewer hours of sleep per night-are at a higher risk for viral infections, obesity, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and pain. In addition, REM sleep-the rapid eye movement stage-and dreaming are crucial for memory, learning, and emotional healing.
How to Sleep Better
Many people can improve their length and quality of sleep by avoiding certain stimulants and depressants.
Caffeine has a half-life of six to eight hours. That means that you will may still have some caffeine in your blood at bedtime if you have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It may not be enough to keep you up at night, but the more you have and the later you consume it, the more likely it will disrupt your sleep.
Large meals before bedtime will make it hard for your body to rest as it tries to digest foods. Smoking can also have an effect on sleep according to a 2008 study, which showed that smokers don't spend as much time in deep sleep.
Drugs can also impact sleep: Excessive alcohol, most antidepressants, and beta-blockers disrupt sleep and REM patterns. Oddly enough, sleeping pills also suppress REM sleep and they have been found to decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep by only about 15 minutes and to increase total sleeping time by only about 20 minutes. The reason why we feel as if we've slept better is that sleeping pills damage memory, so we simply forget that we didn't sleep well.
As you go through your day, there is a lot you can do to help promote better sleep. Exercise early in the day and avoid exercising before bedtime, as this may make you more alert. A few hours before bedtime, simulate dusk by dimming your lights.
At bedtime, good sleep is all about clearing your mind and creating the right environment for sleep. Establish a sleep routine to get your internal clock working properly, and reserve the bedroom for sleep and sexual activity-that means no watching TV, doing work, using a computer, and other stimulating activities.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Human body temperature follows nature with the lowest temperature happening just before dawn. Disruption in body temperature is related to melatonin levels with the lowest body temperature being found with REM sleep. When we run too warm at night, it interferes with sleep.
Try to reduce your "sleep noise"-worries, anxiety, etc.-before bedtime with cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, visualization, progressive relaxation. Bring to bed a different mind than you bring to the day. Many of us go to bed with thoughts of what we'll be doing the next day, so we're going to sleep with our intentions focused on waking up.
End your "war" against insomnia, as surrendering can actually help you sleep better. And forgive nighttime wakefulness; some kinds of waking at night may actually be normal. If you cannot sleep and lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something else until you feel tired. Lying awake tends to increase worries about sleeping.
If you continue to have sleep issues, seek help, as there are many natural solutions such as acupuncture that may help.