Everyone needs sleep, right? If you find yourself yawning throughout the day and making a lot of return trips to the coffee pot, it may mean that you're not getting enough. The average adult does best on 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and science shows that getting the proper amount of sleep affects multiple parts of our lives.
What would a better night's sleep change for you? And how can you get it?
The Significance of Sleep
It's amazing just how much sleep affects the every day function of our lives. Here are some of the ways sleep affects our bodies and minds:
1. Weight Control. Scientists have shown that people who get enough sleep are less likely to be obese. There seems to be a reasonably strong link between sleep and the ability to control weight, which may be linked to hormone production, the motivation to exercise, and the fact that those who sleep less tend to eat more calories.
If you've found yourself struggling to lose or maintain an ideal weight, sleep might be a contributing factor.
2. Concentration and Social Ability. It turns out that our physical bodies aren't the only thing affected by sleep. Have you ever found yourself saying, "I get grouchy when I don't have enough sleep?" That's extremely common and actually proven to be true (although you may want to avoid using that as an excuse when you get into an argument!).
Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty concentrating and the inability to read social and emotional cues properly. It literally becomes more difficult to be social when you haven't had enough sleep.
3. Mental Health. Sleep has been shown to reduce the risk and symptoms of depression. When you don't get enough sleep, you're more likely to be irritable, tense, and anxious. If you add these emotions to other mental illnesses, like chronic depression, bi-polar disorder, chronic anxiety, etc., it quickly exacerbates the problem.
If you're finding your mental health to be a problem, sleep can make a difference, but it's best to check with a doctor, as chronic conditions can likewise affect the way you sleep, creating a frustrating cycle.
4. Strong Immune Systems. Doctors have found that getting enough sleep makes your immune system stronger and much more likely to fight off small illnesses and infections, as well as shortening the length of time you're affected when you're sick.
Orange juice and immunity-boosting supplements are helpful, but sleep might be the real trick to staying ahead of whatever cold is going around the school or office this week.
How-To Get Better-Quality Sleep
So now you know that you need the sleep, how do you make sure you're getting good sleep? There are some steps you can take to make sure that when you do get sleep, it's the best sleep you can get.
It sounds like advice you'd give your children, but it works for grown-ups astoundingly well, too. It's all about creating habits. When you get into a routine, it's easier for your body to adjust and fall into a sleeping rhythm, meaning you will fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.
The goal is to get at least 7 hours of sleep, so try to plan your bedtime around that number, allowing yourself enough time to sleep before your alarm will be waking you up in the morning.
Tip #2: Turn off the Devices
You've probably already heard it before: turning off your tablet, computer, and cell phone before bed can help you sleep better, but it's so true that it bears repeating. The light that devices give off stimulate both your eyes and your mind and make it harder to get to a good sleep state.
The best rule of thumb is to limit screen time an hour before bed to give your mind time to wind down. It might be a hard adjustment at first, but the difference it makes in the quality of your sleep will make up for it.
Once you've limited your device time, keep that pattern going by sleeping in a dark room. It sounds like second nature, but you'd be surprised how those little night lights and ambient lights from around the house can filter in and affect how well you sleep. In fact, you can sleep less soundly and not even realize it until you're tired every day and you don't know why.
The best solution is to try to get the room as dark as possible, but if you find that you have unavoidable light, a sleep mask can do wonders.
Tip #4: Stay Cool
If you share a bed or a bedroom, you know what a delicate balance it can be to make sure the temperature is just right for sleeping, but it does actually matter. Scientists have found that a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees is ideal for sleeping--it's the perfect balance between hot and cool.
Keeping it on the chillier side makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep, and who doesn't enjoy a cool room with a cozy blanket, after all?
Ahh, lots of us are snoozers--hit that button just a few more times, right? "5 more minutes, I swear..." Unfortunately, that snooze sleep does very little for making your sleep productive as it constantly interrupts the sleep cycle.
Instead, set one alarm and resist the temptation to snooze, forcing yourself to get up when the alarm goes off (one trick is to put the alarm clock on the other side of the room, so you have to get out of bed to hit it). It will feel rough at first, but within a week your body will adjust and you'll feel more energetic in the morning for it.
Your health and happiness matters, and sleep may be having a much bigger impact than you think!