As the National Sleep Foundation notes, the average adult should get eight hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, one out of three adults sleep less than the recommended amount. The results can be dire. As neuroscientist and leading sleep expert, Dr. Matthew Walker points out, literally every single disease killing people in developed countries is linked in some way to a lack of sleep. His statement may sound like hyperbole, but it's actually truer than many realize. If you don't get enough sleep at night, you're not your best self during the day. To boost your mood, you reach for a package of cookies and some soda. The extra snacking weakens your immune system. This leaves you susceptible to whatever's going around. Repeat this pattern enough times and you'll likely put on extra weight. Excessive weight gain then puts a strain on your heart health and raises your blood pressure. It also increases your risk of stroke, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer.
Sleep also affects your mental health and well-being just as powerfully as it affects your physical health. Scientists have known for a long time that many people who have depression also have problems getting enough sleep at night. However, research now shows that lack of sleep is an actual cause of depression, not just one of its symptoms. In serious instances, lack of sleep can also cause mania, a mental condition characterized by symptoms such as a persistently elevated or irritated mood, agitation, and impaired judgment that leads to extreme and dangerous behaviors. Insomnia is also a risk factor in the development of anxiety disorders. Furthermore, there's a clear connection between lack of sleep and Alzheimer's disease. Losing even one night of sleep increases your body's production of beta-amyloid, a protein that causes plaque which blocks communication between your brain's neurons.
Bear in mind, not getting enough sleep for a day or two isn't going to completely ruin your mental health. It takes time for your body's and mind's defenses to be broken down. However, you will feel the effects of a bad night's sleep right away. Sleep helps your body process memories. If you don't get enough sleep at night, you'll likely have a hard time remembering important information the next day. A lack of sleep also affects your ability to concentrate and learn new things. If you're a student, this could lead to poor grades. In the workplace, problems concentrating can lead to workplace mistakes. Furthermore, lack of sleep impacts your moods. Without enough sleep, you'll likely feel irritable and upset the next day. This could lead you to make bad decisions you may regret later on. At the very least, the bad mood brought on by a lack of sleep will make it hard for you to enjoy all that the day may offer, be it the company of family and friends, a good book, or even a walk in the park.
Good Habits That Can Help You Sleep Better
If you're tired of not getting enough sleep at night, it may be time to look at your schedule and habits to see how you can improve your sleep habits. One of the most important habits you can develop to improve your sleep at night is exercising. Daily exercise helps to lower the stress and anxiety which can make it hard for you to settle down at night. Exercise also increases the amount of time your body spends in deep sleep, which is essential for both physical and mental health. Watch what you eat and drink in the evenings to make sure your diet isn't negatively impacting your sleep abilities. A big meal, sugary treats, and spicy foods can make it hard for you to get to sleep at night. Walker recommends avoiding caffeine after 1:00 pm because caffeine makes it hard for your body to fall into a deep sleep. You may not even realize how your sleep is being disrupted during the night, but you'll wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed the next day.
It's also a good idea to pay attention to your bedtime routine. Walker recommends dimming the light and turning off all TV and computer screens at least an hour before bedtime. The hour before bed is a good time to pick up a book, talk with a partner, or sit on the balcony with a cup of tea and enjoy nature's beauty. Decide on a bedtime routine that works well for you and stick with it. Walker also recommends setting the thermostat at 65 degrees Fahrenheit and going to bed at the same time each night.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Your habits aren't the only thing that needs attention if you have a hard time getting enough sleep at night. You may need to make some changes to your bed and bedroom to help you sleep better at night. Blackout curtains are effective if the sun rises very early in the morning where you live. If your mattress isn't comfortable, try flipping it around and/or adding a mattress cover. If the mattress is old, worn out, or no longer suits your needs, you may need to buy a different one.
The right pillow can also make a big difference in the amount of sleep you get each night. To pick the right one, consider which position you like to sleep in at night. Picking an anti-aging pillow is a good idea if you're tired of seeing lines and wrinkles on your face every time you wake up in the morning. A good anti-aging pillow will not only help you sleep well at night but also feel better about yourself when you get up and go about your day. This in turn lessens stress to improve your sleep habits long-term.
Getting eight hours of sleep each night isn't optional if you want to stay physically and mentally healthy and fit. The good news is, it's not difficult to make the changes needed to sleep better each night. Start by looking at your habits and schedule. See if there are any changes you can make to help yourself get to bed at a good time and sleep well during the night. Next, have a look around your room and see how to make it a better place to sleep. A good pillow, mattress, and some blackout curtains can work wonders to improve your sleep and thus your overall health. While it may take time and effort to make needed changes, the end result is well worth it. You'll look better, feel better, and be better able to enjoy all that life has to offer.