Since the start of our time here on Earth, humans and animals take their time to rest and sleep. Trying to alter this vital habit is just plain futile, which, unsurprisingly, we try to do today. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has already raised the alarming sleep insufficiency among adults as a public concern because, as it turns out, more than 25% of the American population is not getting enough sleep.
Why is sleeping vital important?
In October 2015, Stanford Medicine released a publication stating that more than 87% of US high schoolers are sleep deprived because of stress in school. Back in 2007, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America stated that 7 out of 10 adults in the US that go through the anxieties and stress brought by their work can’t sleep well. Stress has become a part of our daily lives and there will be times that it would really shake our peace of mind and would bother us even to our sleep. Learning how to handle it and vent our worries in the most productive ways possible has never been more important now.
According to the American Sleep Association, sleep is an important part of our neurological system’s recuperation. In theory, too little sleep will make us feel antsy and drowsy the next day, decreasing our ability to fully concentrate and focus on our tasks. This does not only affects our cognitive abilities but our emotional and social interactions as well. As it turns out, well-rested neurons can improve our mood and, in turn, our outlook for the day.
Moreover, Dr. Merill Mitler, a sleep expert from the National Institutes of Health, pointed out that sleep does not only affect our brain but every tissue associated within us as it impacts our heart functions, stress and growth hormone production, immune system and even our appetite and breathing. Apart from that, good sleep also helps us avoid depression and even stroke.
While there are still some debates on how much sleep do we really need, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-10 hours for teens and 7-8 hours for adults.
Top Natural sleep aids: how to sleep better (backed by scientific sleep studies)
It’s our right to feel invigorated every morning- and a good night sleep can help with that so here are the tips that you need to wake up happy every morning.
Gear your body for sleep
- Set a specific non-negotiable time for bed
This will help build your ritual around that time you want your body to go to bed. Say 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening. You will habitually schedule your nightly rituals around it. This is a proven way to create a long-lasting sleeping habit according to Dr. Sam Sugar from the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Florida.
- Don’t oversleep during weekends
Simply, don’t slumber more than you need on your bed. And what is too much? According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), that’s about 10 to 12 hours at your healthy state. Depending on your current condition, sleeping patterns can be altered if you’re ill to help your body heal. Try to think of it, if you already sleep so much during the day, your body will still have enough energy for the night.
- Turn down the blue lights two to three hours before bed
Our bodies follow a biological clock, also called circadian rhythm, that operates a certain light signal that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. In a natural setting, these lights would come from the sun going down and the sun rising. But today, as our work and pleasure hours become longer and our electronic devices become more mobile, the artificial lighting from these devices are slowly turning into a sleep distraction.
According to Harvard Medical Publication, usage of artificial lighting especially of the blue lights that come from laptops, mobile phones, and some e-book readers can mess our biological clock. These blue lights produce blue wavelengths that are commonly seen during the day. Counterproductively, these makes us more alert, keeping us from getting a good night’s sleep.
Harvard sleep researcher, Stephen Lockley, explained that even the tiniest blue light can alter melatonin secretion, a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles.
Exercises like running, brisk walking, and going to the gym can help us sleep. A study published on the Mental Health and Physical Activity Journal made by the researchers from Oregon State University concluded that a person can get a very good sleep if they can commit to at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. Those who participated in the study also reported being less sleepy during the day.
Experts suggest to do your activities four hours before bedtime.
- Take a long warm bath
This is a very relaxing way for women and also men to try. Positive results have been noted from a 1997 bath study. In a nutshell, when our body temperature dips, we become sleepy. This radical temperature drop when we get out of the warm bath actually helps us feel drowsy and sleep. Dr. Joyce Walsleben from the New York University of Medicine recommends 20 to 30 minutes of warm bath spaced two hours before bedtime.
- Don’t smoke. If you do – quit
Smoking can affect your sleep time in many ways. In 2013, a study from the University of California stated that people who smoke lose at least 1.2 minutes every time they light a cigarette because of its stimulating effects. In another study that same year from the University of Rochester Medical Center, researchers found that it can change our clock gene expression thus affecting our circadian rhythm. Lastly, in 2001, a late study proved that smoking can alter our breathing causing sleep apnea. Results showed that smokers were more likely to have obstructive sleep apneas 2.5 times greater than their counterparts who do not smoke.
Smoking not just affects our sleep but our entire body as well, so if you’re smoking, it’s never too late to quit.
Eat your way to a good night sleep
- Drink Cherry Juice
A study conducted by the researchers from the Northumbria University School of Life Sciences found out that cherry juice actually enhances the production of melatonin, our body hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
Those who drink the tart cherry juice in the study, around 30 ml twice a day for a week, were reported to have had at least 25 minutes more sleeping time and 6% increase in sleep quality than those who drank the placebo juice. So, if you don’t want to take sleeping pills, try the natural cherry juice.
- No more caffeine before bedtime
Caffeine is known as a natural stimulant and can commonly be found on a cup of coffee that we drink every morning to jump start our day. After ingestion, it only takes 15 minutes for it to take its effect and can stay in our system for 6 hours.
Drinking coffee, soda drinks, tea or consuming chocolate before bedtime would not help us getting a good sleep. Try to schedule your consumption earlier in the evening or in the afternoon, around 4 to 6 hours before bed.
- Schedule your big dinner and drinks
Laying down to sleep after eating dinner can make you bloated and even experience reflux. A research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress last 2011 suggests that people who waited for an hour or more to sleep after eating have lessened their risk for stroke by 66%.
For drinks, the UCLA Sleep Center recommends consuming beverages 90 minutes before sleeping to avoid going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
- Eat these tryptophan-rich foods
Tryptophan is a protein that our body converts to serotonin, a hormone that can also enhance our sleep. That’s why according to the UCLA sleep center, eating there tryptophan-rich foods can help us in our sleep.
Rearranging your bedroom for bedtime
- Make sure your bed & pillows clean and fit
Nothing beats a comfortable clean bed, covered in clean sheets with just-the-right-size pillows. According to Goodhousekeeping, we have to wash our sheets every two weeks and 2 to 3 times a year for the mattress pad. If you’re sweating nightly, clean them both more often.
Make sure that you fit the bed without any part of your body dangling outside the frame. If you’re a very active sleeper, try to get a bigger bed so you won’t fall out of it.
Your pillows should support the type of sleeper that you are. Here are some tips from WebMD:
-For people who sleep on the back, you’ll need thinner pillows so your head won’t be too elevated. Look for pillows that can support your neck
-For people who sleep on their side, you’ll need a firmer pillow to bridge the gap between your shoulder and your ear.
-For people who sleep on their stomach, you’ll need a very thin pillow to place under your stomach prevent lower back pain.
If you feel neck pain from sleeping wrong here’s an article on how to get rid of it.
Pillows should be replaced after 12 to 18 months. Also, make sure to check and get rid of bed bugs that can lurk in the corners of the mattress. Call in the bed bug spray team if needed.
Sleepedia has written a good guide on how long mattresses last.
- Paint your bedroom blue, yellow or green
Colors have their own personality as we all know. A survey done by the travel site Travelodge in the UK provide a solid ground on how people react to the colors around them, particularly the perception of the bedroom.
The study looked at least 2,000 homes and then tried to correlate the color of the bedroom to the amount of sleep that the owners were getting. As it turns out, bedrooms with a light blue paint gave the highest result in sleep hours at 7 hours and 52 minutes on average. On the other hand, rooms that are painted with purple gave the lowest time at 5 hours and 56 mins.
The calmest colors of both yellow and green also gave promising sleeping times.
“This is an amazing result, as there are specialized receptors called ganglion cells in the retina part of our eyes, which are most sensitive to the color blue. These receptors feed information into an area deep in our brain that controls the 24-hour rhythm, and affects how we perform and feel during the day. That interaction between light, sleep and wakefulness is supremely important.” said sleep expert, Chris Idzikowski from the Edinburgh Sleep Center.
- Turn down your thermostat
As mentioned before, cooler temperature makes us sleepy. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the optimum sleeping temp is at 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.3 degrees Celsius.
This varies from people to people, so basically you can take the suggestion or take the extra effort to know your sweet spot.
- Don’t bring your pet to bed
Practically speaking, your pet can become unpredictable while sleeping- and he or she won’t care to wake you up if he or she starts barking or licking your face while you’re in deep sleep. That will be very annoying, right?
Instead, you can train your cute pet furball to sleep in their playhouse or designated comfy bed.
- Protect your room from noise
According to the 2012 Bedroom Poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, over 74% of Americans agree that a quiet place to rest is very crucial to a good night’s sleep.
A study conducted in 2000 supports this. The researchers measured fMRI and EEG readings of patients sleeping and as it turns out, we can actually hear and process auditory stimuli even if we’re asleep. This explains that even if you get 7-9 hours of sleep but still feel tired when you wake up, noise can be one of the main reasons.
You can pacify noise by simply closing your windows from outside noises. White noise machine can also balance sudden sound abruptions like a door slamming. For more intense situations, you can use noise-cancelling earphones.
- Bed: For Sleep and Sex ONLY
It’s all about conditioning and from the Manual of Clinical Psychopharmacology, authors site that cognitive-behavioral therapy can be a consistent approach in curing insomnia as patients learn to associate the bed for sleeping and sex only. This is characterized as a stimulus control therapy.
So yes, discipline yourself to never work on your bed even though it’s very comfy and you just want your laptop and work for a few hours while lounging. Creating a separate area for your work will help with this. Cutting out excessive outlets for your gadgets near your bed will also help as you will have to go somewhere else once your laptop or mobile phone needs charging.
- If you can’t sleep, don’t push it
After 20 minutes of lying down and you can’t sleep, don’t push it. Experts from the National Sleeping Foundation, suggests that you get up and do something mindless instead and let drowsiness come to you.
- Stretch after you wake up
What you do in the morning impacts your mood at night and with all the deadlines that you have to cram through to have a productive day, how you wake up can influence your day and your night.
Psychologist Amy Cuddy from Harvard says that you have to be very conscious of your mornings and suggests that the first thing you should actually do is to stretch your body as wide as you can. This has hormonal effects as the study measured testosterone and cortisol levels that influence our mood.
“It’s obviously bi-directional,” she points out. “But the people who wake up like this” (Cuddy performs an outstretched arm forming a V)- “are super happy, like annoyingly happy.”
It’s worth a shot after a very nice long sleep.
- Take power naps, but schedule it
CEOs and leaders are known to take power naps during the day. They claim that this gives them the time to recharge and boost their performance- and it makes sense.
Researchers from Saarland University in Germany discovered that taking around 45-60 minutes of nap time can improve a person’s memory skills by five times.
If you’ve had a bad night, this is another way to compensate for that. But of course try to schedule it in the afternoon as what experts suggests, so as not to interfere with your ability to sleep at night.
Medical Treatment Options
Snoring is the rattling noise that a person makes when he or she breathes while sleeping. It is commonly associated with lifestyle. According to the National Health Services, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol before bed and positioning yourself on your side instead of your back would help the proper airflow of your breathing, making it less susceptible to snore.
However, severe snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea that can further relate to hypertension. Seek your general practitioner if snore very loud.
Hypersomnia or oversleeping is a medical disorder that causes memory problems, tiredness and symptoms of anxiety. These are the people who sleep 10 hours or more most of the time while feeling so tired in the morning. If you think you’re sleeping more than you need, seek medical advice immediately.
Hypersomnia has been linked to diabetes, headache, depression and even death.
- Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea is an on-going disorder where the air passage narrows resulting to minor pauses in breathing. It is characterized by very loud snoring, sleepiness in the morning, tiredness, mood changes and problems in memory retention.
Most of the cases are undetected but if you have episodes of loud snoring coupled with pauses in between breaths, see your doctor for proper diagnosis.
I hope this will help you get a really good night’s sleep. As mentioned before, it is very important to our welfare- in mind and our body as it will help us conquer various diseases, uplift our mood, refocus, be more creative and of course, be healthy.