There are those people who fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow, and then there are those of us who lie awake for hours, thinking that achieving a good night’s rest is a thing of dreams. It can be incredibly frustrating and has severe effects on our health. The good news, though, is that there are many natural ways to encourage a better quality of sleep, and it starts with knowing your body, maintaining a good resting environment, and adopting good sleep hygiene. Here’s how you do it.
Negative Effects Of Sleep Deprivation
It comes as no surprise that sleep is essential for maintaining good health, and that when we are confronted with a lack of sleep, our bodies tend to go downhill quickly. Aside from making us groggy and compromising our ability to think quickly, sleep deprivation is also associated with heart disease and heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, and diabetes. Sleep deprivation also reduces the sex drive by stunting hormone production, impacts mood and psychological health, ages the skin prematurely, and compromises the body’s immune system by stunting the production of cytokines and antibodies that fight infection, resulting in more frequent illnesses and longer recovery times.
Know Your Body
One of the most important aspects of increasing your sleep quality is to really know your body. Although the average recommended amount of sleep is around eight hours per night, not all of us naturally sleep that way. In order to be able to optimize on your sleep quality, you first need to figure out how your body tends to rest — in shorter and more frequent pauses, or in longer blocks — and work with whichever sleep cycle is best for your body. Furthermore, you should analyze the sleeping positions that you use and how they affect your body; from acid reflux to snoring or pain, your sleep position can seriously affect your quality of sleep and overall health.
Optimize Your Sleep Environment
Creating an optimal sleep environment is essential to a solid 40 winks. As the presence of light reduces the production and release of melatonin — a hormone responsible for inducing sleep — maintaining a dark environment is key. Likewise, preserving a quiet environment helps to promote a deeper, more restful sleep with fewer disturbances as well. This is because, as a defense reflex, we respond to external stimuli while asleep. Noise can impede our ability to fall into the deeper stages of sleep where we can truly rest, and it can cause us to wake out of sleep due to a perceived threat. Even if we don’t wake up fully, the ability to achieve the restful REM sleep will be compromised.
The quality of the mattress you use also plays a large role in your sleep quality. Mattresses should not be older than 8-10 years and should be the right comfort and firmness for your body type. As we sleep, the points where our bodies come into contact with the mattress are pressure points where blood flow and oxygen are being restricted. This often manifests as pain and discomfort, triggering the sleeper to toss and turn in order to restore blood flow to the restricted areas. These signals of discomfort and the urge to move result in waking frequently. Instead of sleeping on a mattress with springs, it’s a great idea to invest in a good quality mattress that reduces pressure points, such as a memory foam option from this company, for example. This can make a huge difference in allowing you to remain asleep and free of aches and pains.
Finally, aside from dark, quiet, and comfortable, the ideal sleeping environment is around 68°F or 20°C, as temperatures that are too cold or hot will likewise stir you out of deep REM sleep or impede you from falling asleep. Likewise, EMFs (electro-magnetic fields) emitted from electronic devices such as computers, TVs, or cell phones impede melatonin production and interrupt sleep stages as well. It is best to leave all electronics out of your bedroom to encourage a better sleep quality.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
A good night’s sleep actually starts with the day before. First and foremost, you should be sure to get a good amount of light exposure during the day — natural sunlight is best. This helps to maintain the body’s circadian rhythms (internal clock) and melatonin production. It is also a good practice to avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar throughout the day, as well as to maintain a healthy diet in general, particularly to eat easy-to-digest food for dinner and avoid snacking before bed, since digestion can keep the body awake. It is best to eat a large breakfast and lunch and a relatively light dinner.
It is also incredibly important to exercise when trying to increase your sleep quality. Physical exercise early enough in the day releases anti-depressant and stress-relieving hormones and endorphins which can help you sleep more soundly and deeply in the evenings. However, because exercise also releases cortisol, which is a stimulant responsible for alertness, exercise should not be practiced too close to bedtime.
Just as what you do throughout the day is important, so is what you do before going to bed. Following a routine before bed is helpful; this can include shutting off all electrical devices two to four hours before bed, and then having the same herbal tea, followed by reading time and a good cleansing routine (washing your face, brushing your teeth, etc.). This time allows your body to wind down and helps to put your body in a preparing-for-sleep mode. A good routine can help you begin to feel tired and fall asleep faster; however it requires that you go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Interruptions in your sleep routine will diminish its ability to trigger sleep.
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