Sleep is often declared as one of our most underrated and overlooked health habits. In fact, over one-third of Americans fail to get enough sleep each night. This puts people at risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
On top of that, getting too little sleep on a regular basis tends to cause frequent mental distress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. This, in turn, can lead to anxiety in other areas of your life, including an increase in work-related stress, which can result in numerous health problems and, possibly, a risk of substance abuse. However, by making adjustments to your sleep habits, you can get the proper amount of restful sleep that is critical to your mental health.
Develop a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at different times every day makes it difficult for your body to get quality, restorative sleep. Your body naturally develops a circadian rhythm, which means it expects to be asleep and awake on a regular pattern. When you follow this pattern, your body releases the sleep and wake hormones at the appropriate times to help you fall asleep faster at night and wake up easier in the morning. So, set a consistent bedtime and stick to it. Try not to hit snooze when you wake up, as this confuses the body and disrupts your natural rhythm.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
A daily sleep ritual will allow your body to unwind and your mind to prepare for sleep. This nightly routine should involve activities that you enjoy and allow you to relax. Of course, personal preferences will vary from person to person. Some great activities to include in your bedtime routine are reading, gentle stretching, listening to relaxing music, and taking a bath. Avoid stimulating activities during your bedtime ritual, such as exercise, working, or video games, since these can actually prevent you from sleeping.
Limit Light Exposure in the Evenings
According to Thrive Global, being exposed to blue light during the evenings can interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is because high-energy blue light, such as sunlight, naturally suppresses the body’s production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. TVs, laptops, and phones are some of the most common sources of blue light. So, try to turn off any and all screens at least two hours before bedtime.
Reduce Stress in Your Sleep Environment
When it’s finally time to sleep, create the perfect sleep environment to reduce stress and promote relaxation. The Alaska Sleep Education Center recommends removing distractions and clutter from your bedroom so the room is only associated with sleep. Keep your bedroom dark with heavy blackout curtains and remove any night lights. Many people are kept awake or aroused from sleep by noises out of their control, but sound machines can help by drowning out noises from outside and lulling you into a relaxed state. Finally, make sure you keep your bedroom cool, ideally between 60 and 67 degrees. This helps your body prepare for sleep by achieving the necessary drop in body temperature.
Cut Out Stimulants and Alcohol
Like noise and light, the things we put into our body also affect our sleep quality. Drinking alcohol close to bedtime can make you feel sleepy, but it actually reduces your brain’s ability to enter deep sleep and can even cause frequent waking later on in the night. Caffeine and nicotine also impair sleep by keeping the body stimulated in the evenings. Try to avoid consuming any of these substances close to bedtime.
Know What to Do When You Can’t Sleep
If you can’t fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes, the best thing you can do is get out of bed. Go into another room and do something restful, such as reading or some light stretching. Try not to fixate on how little sleep you’ll get or how few hours are left until your alarm will go off. This will just make you feel more anxious and frustrated.
Getting enough quality sleep each night will benefit your mental health by reducing feelings of stress, worry, and sadness. It will even help your memory and improve the decision-making processes in your brain. So, try to implement these healthy sleep habits to fuel your waking days with energy and happiness!
Guest Article written by Cheryl Conklin
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