The body can only be short-changed on sleep for so long. Short bouts of sleeplessness can be tolerated by a healthy individual, but it takes a huge toll on the system. Don’t be fooled into thinking sleep isn’t that important or that you’re too busy to afford its luxury.
Beyond the obvious effects of sleep deprivation: impaired driving and poor judgment, it’s a serious drain on the body. Losing sleep comes with a steep cost; either you must rest more later to catch up or your overall health will suffer.
Good vs poor sleep
For the best rest, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and aim for 8-9 hours every night. You’ll know you slept well if you wake up in the morning feeling well rested and ready to face the day.
If you regularly find you wake up early, long before 8 hours of sleep have passed and feel agitated or anxious, there’s a problem. This indicates you are stressed out and are being woken up ahead of time by an adrenaline rush. The “Sleep Aids” section below has tips on what you can do to sleep better. This advice also applies to those who repeatedly wake up at night or suffer from insomnia. Adequate sleep is essential to healthy living, so work towards getting a good night’s sleep!
Conversely, if you can never seem to get enough sleep and you’re still exhausted after 10-11 hours of sleep every night, that’s also a problem. In this case, your body is trying to recover by getting sleep, but is in such poor shape that sleep alone is not enough. Reducing your exposure to stressors will let your body recover.
As discussed above, good sleep is necessary. What if you have insomnia though? Or you have difficulty falling asleep? Here are some things that can help:
- Limit caffeine – Seriously, if you are having trouble sleeping this is the first thing you should work on! I know the caffeine is used to correct the tiredness that follows not sleeping well, but I’m not saying you need to eliminate it completely. Confine your intake to before lunch and reduce it by 3/4 to 1/2 of your previous dose. The worst thing you can do is UP the amount! Improving sleep will increase alertness during the day much better than retroactively trying to fix it with caffeine.
- Don’t drink alcohol right before bed – While alcohol can cause you to become sleepy, it tends to cause a restless sleep instead of letting you sink into a deep sleep.
- Don’t eat a large meal right before bed – Like alcohol, eating a large meal can make you sleepy, but because the body needs to process it you will have a harder time reaching a deep sleep.
- Regular bedtime and waking schedule – Note that being able to sleep in on weekends is good in that it allows you to recover lost sleep from the week. Don’t use that as an excuse to stay up all night on weekends because that will throw off your internal sleep/wake clock.
- Avoid lights in the bedroom – Street lights outside your window, lights from charging electronics, and even the light from the numbers on your alarm clock can inhibit your ability to fall asleep. Thick curtains or blinds can help block out street lights. Your alarm clock can be turned to face away from you. Other light sources should be kept outside the room if possible.
- Avoid sounds in the bedroom – Noise pollution can also undermine the quality of your sleep. Keep your smart phone, television and other electronics out of the bedroom to reduce nighttime interruptions. if you live in a busy neighborhood, keeping windows closed can help to block out disruptive noises.
- Don’t schedule any long-running activities before bed – If you are prone to starting projects that end up “taking longer than you thought” like I do, try to refrain from starting them right before you would normally go to bed. They will take longer than you think, they always do!
- Reduce stress – Restless sleep increases stress, and stress can cause insomnia, so it is imperative to break this cycle! If there are other stressors you can remove, especially ones that more directly impact sleep, do so.
- Melatonin – This is a quick fix, though it doesn’t always work. Removing underlying causes for insomnia is a much better solution. You can use this in a pinch though if you get to the end of the day and just can’t fall asleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body to help regulate sleepiness. Because it’s based on a natural product, it’s a much safer and milder drug than most sleep aids. Keep in mind this should be used as a temporary solution. Prolonged insomnia is an indicator of other problems, like those mentioned above. Sometimes just getting that first good night’s sleep can do wonders to reduce one’s stress load though.