Who’s guilty of sometimes getting up on the wrong side of the bed and dreading the day ahead? My hand is firmly raised! 🙋
Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health and quality of life. The role sleep plays is vital to our overall good health and well-being throughout our life. During sleep, your body is working to support a healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. We can deduce that the way you feel while you are awake depends relatively on what happens while you're sleeping.
The impairment from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (being involved in an accident) or it can harm you over time. Sleep is also instrumental in achieving Healthy Brain Function and Emotional Well being. During sleep our brain is preparing for the next day and forms new neural pathways to help you learn and remember information. Studies have shown that a good night's sleep improves learning. Whether you're learning for an exam or riding a bicycle, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills as it helps you pay attention and make better decisions and even enhances your creativity.
So if sleep is so good for us there must surely be a flip side to how our bodies react to a lack of sleep right? Ongoing sleep deficiency increases your risk for chronic health problems, and affects how well you are able to think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.
Many studies show that sleep deficiency actually alters activity in some parts of the brain. When I’m sleep deficient I have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling my emotions and behavior. If this sounds familiar, take stock of how much sleep you have been getting in the recent days. I’m pretty sure it’s been a few nights of poor sleep for you. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.
People suffering from sleep deficiencies may have problems getting along with others as they may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation.
Many factors play a role in preparing your body to fall asleep and wake up. You have an internal "body clock" that controls when you're awake and when your body is ready for sleep. This body clock typically has a 24-hour repeating rhythm and is called the circadian rhythm.
Your internal clock is located in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. It responds to external cues to tell your body when it is time to go to sleep... makes sense? Our busy lifestyles can very often throw this rhythm off kilter, be it as a result of working late into the night or travelling across different time zones. The important thing to remember is that this imbalance can be corrected. Here are a few habits to get you started:
1. The light has to be right!
When you’re exposed to light, your brain stops producing melatonin, which is also referred to as the sleep hormone. This makes you feel awake and alert. One of the quickest ways to fix your sleep schedule is to plan your exposure to light. Darkness tells your brain to make more melatonin, so you feel drowsy. At night, prime yourself for sleep by turning off or dimming all bright lights. I’m pretty sure this next one is the main culprit to many (if not all) of my poor night's sleep - Avoid glowing electronic screens from computers and smartphones as they can (and do) stimulate your brain for several hours. This is a true story!
2. Skip those cat naps
So this one isn't something that I do personally but I know a lot of people who do. If your sleep schedule is out of sorts, try to avoid naps during the day. Napping can make it difficult to go back to sleep at night. If you must nap, aim for less than 30 minutes. It’s also best to nap before 3 p.m. so your nighttime sleep isn’t disrupted.
3. Eat early
Your circadian rhythm responds to your eating habits so eating dinner late in the evening can delay sleep. Try to eat your last meal two to three hours before bed as this will give your body enough time to digest the meal. Eating dinner around the same time each day will also get your body used to a routine. Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, or energy drinks. Stimulants take several hours to wear off so have your last cup before mid-afternoon. Not wanting to sound like a party pooper but if you can - best to skip alcohol before bed. A nightcap might make you drowsy but alcohol actually disrupts your circadian rhythm, making it difficult to sleep well.
4. Healthy Habit Creation - Routine
If your objective is to improve your sleep schedule you kind of need to make one first, right? Choose a bedtime and wake-up time and stick to these times every day, even on weekends or days off. By following a regular schedule, you allow your internal clock to develop a new routine and over time, you’ll be able to fall asleep and wake up with ease.
5. Get daily exercise
Ok so this one I cannot encourage you to do more! One way to reset your internal clock is to exercise regularly. Most of your tissues including skeletal muscle are linked to your biological clock. When we work out our muscles respond by aligning our circadian rhythm. Very importantly, exercise enhances sleep by promoting melatonin production.
There is no need to go out and run a marathon, just 20-30minutes of moderate exercise can improve your sleep quality that same night. Trust me when I say that you’ll get the best results if you exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five times a week but keep in mind that evening exercise can overstimulate your body. If you want to exercise at night, do it at least one to two hours before bedtime.
Let me know what works best for you - reach out to me on LinkedIn
Productivity & Wellbeing Director
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