The human body is not meant to stay in perpetual motion. Our circadian rhythms demand certain periods of daily sleep, the quantity, and quality of which can dictate how well our minds and bodies can handle the everyday stresses of life. The average adult needs about seven hours of sleep each night, but more than 30 percent of us aren’t getting the sleep we need.
The dangers of missing sleep
Lack of sleep negatively impacts human performance on every level. An exhausted brain often confuses sleep deprivation with a need for glucose, which triggers sugar cravings and late-night snacking. A tired body wants to conserve energy, so it’s difficult to find the motivation to work out when you’re tired. It’s no wonder, then, that sleeping for less than seven hours for every 24-hour period is associated with increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Lack of sleep has even been shown to increase the risk of injury.
Fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer
If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, try these six strategies to help you fall asleep and experience a more restorative night’s rest.
- Cool your room at night. Studies show that we fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer when the ambient temperature in our sleeping area is 65-72 degrees. Results vary depending on your comfort level, so try different temperatures to see what works best for you.
- Set aside time for sleep. Sleep is so important it deserves a place in our daily schedule. Whenever possible, go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to establish a predictable sleeping pattern and improve the sleep cycles you experience while snoozing.
- Practice deep breathing. Deep breaths help to oxygenate the blood and tissues, remove toxins and calm the mind. Try this breathing pattern for three minutes to breathe yourself to sleep each night: Inhale for six counts through your nose, hold four seconds, then exhale to the count of 10.
- Eliminate electronics. Screens are a distraction, and the light they emit stimulates the brain and makes it difficult to fall asleep. For the best sleep, remove all electronics from your bedroom to help your brain and body calm down more quickly so you can fall asleep faster at night.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. That nightcap before bed can do more harm than good, negatively impacting your ability to reach REM sleep, the most restorative part of the sleep cycle. You’ll wake up more refreshed and renewed if you skip the evening cocktail and choose water instead.
- Incorporate movement every day. Just 30 minutes of movement every day can help prepare the body for a restful night’s sleep. Make time daily for a workout or recovery session that involves movement, and you’ll notice better sleep and a better outlook in the morning.
When sleep remains elusive
Sleep is so important that not getting enough sleep is a reason to see your doctor. Lack of adequate sleep and the inability to establish regular sleep patterns using the tips above can have both mental and physical health consequences, even affecting the immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
How do I know I’m sleeping enough?
If you’re not sure you’re getting enough sleep, it’s always a good idea to aim for more. In fact, nearly 80 percent of American adults report that they would feel better and more prepared for the day if they could only get an extra hour of sleep each night.
Take note of how you feel each morning to gauge the quality of your sleep. If you feel rested and ready to jump out of bed, you’re at a good place. If the snooze button on your alarm gets more of a workout than you do, it’s time to reassess your sleep habits and practice some sleep hygiene to get your body the rest it craves.
In partnership with EXOS, a world leader in human performance and the management company for CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.