How are you feeling right now? A little sleepy? Can’t stop yawning? Or are full of energy and ready to go? These are all indications of how much restful sleep you are getting each night. Most of us are probably not getting enough in fact more and more people are skimping out on sleep to accomplish more everyday. In today’s world we are constantly connected, plugged in and glued to our cell phones; it’s just the way of life now, but as convenient as this lifestyle may seem, it can also be damaging to your health. The light that comes from electronic devices like cell phones and tablets, mimic daylight which can actually mess with your internal sleep cycle. Our bodies react to our surroundings, so night time signals your body to power down and rest up and daylight does the opposite, so when your body gets exposed to “daylight”, it signals that you should stay awake. That’s one reason why so many of us struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Every one of us is so different and our physical needs (sleep included) vary. It is recommended that on average each person should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, however some people need only 4-6 hours to be at their best (but this is very rare) and others may actually need more; 9-10 hours to function optionally. Regardless of how much sleep you typically get, the absolute minimum hours of uninterrupted sleep that everyone must get in order to function is 4 hours. Anything less than that can cause you physical harm, you may even be a danger to yourself and those around you. This may sound extreme, but studies show that if you get behind the wheel when sleep deprived, it is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Many accidents are caused each year from people falling asleep behind the wheel so don’t risk it, get your rest and if you can’t, stay away from the driver’s seat.
There are many ways that you can improve your sleep, small habits that you can adopt to make it better. A good place to start is by looking at your bedroom, namely its color scheme. The best colors to have in your bedroom are muted blues, greens and purples, and the worst are super bright colors (think lime green or electric blue) and greys. The color of your walls and sheets should promote tranquility and peacefulness (think zen-minimalist). Also look at how clean and organized your space is; putting off dusting can affect the air quality and leaving piles of your stuff everywhere doesn’t create the best vibes (it’ll be a constant reminder of one more thing on your already packed to do list). So be sure to keep it clean, organized and uncluttered. Next, take a look at your alarm clock as its light can be invasive and perk you up when you be calming down; one tip is to cover your clock when you go to bed to block out its brightness. Another aspect to consider is how dark your room is when you turn out the lights; pitch black is ideal so consider getting blackout curtains or for a less expensive option, wear an eye mask.
Now that we’ve covered the visual, let’s look at a couple other aspects that affect your sleep. A noisy space is not the best option to help you sleep. If your residence is on a busy street or you live in a noisy building with paper thin walls, consider earplugs; find a pair that fits comfortably and blocks out most sound. There has also been a popular trend in recent years for devices that play sounds that promote sleep, sort of white noises or soothing sounds like the ocean or rainforest. These are apparently effective, but it’s just an added expense and one more fancy device in your house, so don’t buy it unless you really feel it’s a necessity. Another very important factor is the temperature of your room; ever notice during warmer months if you don’t have air conditioning that it’s really hard to fall asleep? That’s because if it’s too warm and stuffy your body temperature will struggle to regulate itself, making it very hard to get enough rest. Keep your room cool, not cold, just cool and cover yourself with a light blanket and sheet to keep your core body temperature steady and comfortable.
Let’s talk mattress, there are so many kinds out there that vary on firmness, some are spring, others foam, some even can even emit heat or coolness. Mattresses can be very high tech and come with a high price tag these days, so do yourself a favor and shop around a bit, keep an eye out for a good sale (different stores have them throughout the year) and be sure to test a few out before making a purchase. When you do test it out, lie down, see if you can get comfy and shift positions to see how you feel; it may seem a bit awkward at first but you really need to “test drive” mattresses in store before buying. After all, your mattress will last you for several years and it would be a real shame to be uncomfortable each night until you get a new one. Your pillow is also very important to take in to consideration, the best are memory foam that promote coolness (you can usually find these for under $30 in stores). Be sure to run it through your washing machine regularly as pillows can harbour nasty microbes and buy a new one once your pillow starts to lose its oomph. Try to sleep on one pillow only and make sure that your head and neck are in line with your spine and not crunched to one side (waking up with neck pain totally sucks, as I’m sure you’d agree).
Your pre-bedtime routine is also a big component of your potential night of restful sleep. If you’re running around all day right up until you go to bed, chances are it’ll take a while for you to fall asleep. Give yourself adequate time to get into a routine that allows to slow down and be calm. Some say taking a warm shower and then using a scented moisturizer like lavender are a great way to start relaxing, while others suggest taking 15 minutes to read quietly or mediate. I typically take about 15 minutes to remove my makeup , moisturize, brush my teeth and floss (my dentist will be delighted to hear that last part!), and then I take a few more minutes to gently stretch my arms, shoulders and back where I hold a lot of tension. I also try to go to sleep and wake at the same time on most nights; I wake at 6 am and I am in bed for 10 pm during weeknights. Although I should aim to keep the same timing every night weekends are a bit of a challenge; who really wants to go to sleep at 10 pm on a Saturday night? I usually go to bed around midnight and crawl out of bed around 9 am the following morning, what can I say except I’m only human and I live in the real world, just do the best you can each day.
One “solution” that many people are turning to these days are sleep aids, prescription and over the counter which are easily available and sometimes used without much consideration. Over the counter version are available without prescription and have become very popular these days as they are usually marketed as a gentle means to ease your way to sleep. These may be effective for some, but check the ingredients before buying them; on a recent trip to the pharmacy I checked the medicinal ingredients of a heavily advertised OTC sleep aid and was surprised to see that it consisted of allergy medication that causes drowsiness, so before you start popping pills to help you sleep check the ingredients first. Also be sure talk to your healthcare provider prior to starting any medication whether it is prescription or OTC, especially sleep aids. Consider trying the non-medicinal strategies first and only try the meds as a last resort if you must, it’s probably not too great to always rely on medication to get a good night’s sleep.
Getting adequate and restful sleep every night has to be a priority in order to keep your body and mind at their best. We all lead very busy, fast paced lives that require most of us to always be on the go or always thinking about what’s next. It’s hard to find a good balance where you can be fit, eat right and well rested so remember to do find what works best for you. If there is only one takeaway that you get here let it be this: studies show that people who get the least amount of sleep tend to have a bigger waist circumference and more visceral fat, which makes perfect sense as we tend to seek out higher caloric food for more energy when sleep deprived. So if you want your workouts to count so that you can be trim and fit, get you rest! Don’t skimp out on a full night sleep, make it a priority and take it easy. Make your bedroom inviting; get yourself some good quality sheets and a mattress that are nice and comfortable and be sure to sleep in a cool, dark and quiet environment. When you’re home tonight put on your pajamas, shut off your cell phone and get comfy (I feel like doing that right about now actually). Sweet dreams!
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