If you’re anything like me, you envy those who get a few hours’ sleep the night before and seem to be functioning just fine the next day. I, on the other hand, need my solid 8 hours of sleep and definitely feel the difference when I get less.
The National Sleep Foundation expresses that getting an optimal amount of sleep on a daily basis has physical, cognitive and emotional benefits. For example, sleep is important for healthy immune function. A person’s immune system can be compromised when tired, making it easier to catch colds and other illnesses and harder to recover from infections and wounds. You may also feel hungrier when tired and crave high-fat foods and carbohydrates. That’s because sleep helps regulate appetite and digestion.
Sleep helps to regulate mood and emotion as well. You may notice that you get stressed more easily when tired and/or feel more cranky and irritable. With the right amount of sleep however, there’s a better chance of waking up energized, positive and confident.
Quality sleep also keeps attention, concentration, reflexes, decision-making, memory and judgment sharp. A good night’s sleep can help you remain alert and focused throughout the day.
So, what can we do if we find ourselves tossing and turning at night?
Scientists have tested “sleep hygiene” tips that you can practice regularly to help achieve a restful night’s sleep. Here are a few of them:
- Try to keep your sleep/wake cycle consistent by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day—even on weekends.
- Be mindful of what you eat and drink in the evening hours. For example, try to avoid sources of caffeine close to bed time and going to bed hungry or too full.
- Do something relaxing on a regular basis during the hour before bed that your brain would associate with sleep, such as listening to a calming playlist or taking a warm bath.
- Turn your bedroom into a sleep haven. Paint the walls a calming shade and pick a mattress, sheets and pillows you find comfortable. Keep your bedroom a comfortable temperature overnight and try using a white noise machine to block out any unwanted sounds.
- Try to avoid staring at your clock when you’re having trouble falling asleep. Watching your clock increases the stress hormone cortisol, making it more difficult to fall asleep. It may help to get up and do something simple and repetitive (such as folding laundry) for a bit.
- If worries are keeping you awake, try putting them on paper to get them out of your mind.
What if sleep difficulties don’t improve with good sleep hygiene practices?
The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School states that not all sleep problems are easy to treat and could be indicative of a sleep disorder. In such circumstances, it may be beneficial to seek the opinion of your physician or a sleep specialist.