It’s so important to our general good health that we get a restful night’s sleep. In fact, one of the best things we can do to optimise our health is to get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown over and over again that poor sleep patterns have immediate negative effects on our brain function, our hormones, and on our exercise performance. Poor sleep patterns not only cause weight gain, they can also increase the risk of disease in both children and adults. Sadly, many people suffer from poor sleep, and sleep quality and quantity have noticeably declined over the past few decades.
Therefore, it’s not only important to develop a healthy sleep pattern, we must also maintain this pattern on a consistent basis. In order to live a happy and productive life, adults typically require between 7 and 9-hours restful sleep every night, while teens and younger children require even more. Our brain requires adequate rest in order to improve mental sharpness, balance our emotions and immune system, and keep our weight on an even keel. Many people don’t realise just how important it is to achieve a restful night’s sleep, and because of their busy timetables they fail to give sleep the importance it deserves.
Is It Bad If You Have Too Little Sleep?
In a word, “Yes”! Reduced amounts of sleep have been proven to increase the chances of having high blood pressure, a heart attack, and/or a stroke.
The loss of just a single hours sleep can be life threatening, quite literally. When the clocks change and daylight saving time is introduced, researchers have proved that there is a subsequent 24% increase in heart attacks the next day.
Hormonal balance is also affected by a lack of sleep. Research published in the journal JAMA in 2011 looked at healthy young men who slept for just four hours per night over the course of four nights. These men were found to have levels of testosterone equivalent to that of someone 10 years older. A similar problem is found in female reproductive health and hormone levels due to a shortage of sleep.
Your immune system also does not like it when you miss out on shut-eye. Those people who are picking up less than seven hours of sleep a night are more than three times more prone to become infected by a rhinovirus, or the common cold.
Tips for Getting to Sleep Quicker
If you struggle to achieve a restful night’s sleep, here are some tips that may help –
1: Stop Using Your Phone At Least an Hour before Bedtime
Most people already know that using their phone immediately before retiring for the night can ruin their sleep, but this can be a hard habit to break. The blue light emitted from your phone and other screens increases your body’s alertness, making your body clock believe it’s still daytime. Not using your phone, tablet or other screens helps your body to relax and prepare for a restful night’s sleep. However, there is an alternative solution if ignoring your phone is not an option for you. There is an app for both Android and iPhones that will block out blue light on your screen.
2: Wear Earplugs
Earplugs, whether they be foam, silicon, or wax, can be the ideal solution if you’re a light sleeper and you sleep with someone who snores, or you sleep near a noisy environment, like a road, airport, hotel, and so on. And earplugs are an extremely affordable and effective way of reducing noise. If you choose disposable foam earplugs, you can wash them in soapy warm water to extend their life; however, they must be completely dry before reinserting.
3: Need to Sleep During the Day? Try a Sleeping Mask!
Many shift workers are required to sleep during the day, which can be challenging at best. A sleeping mask should sit comfortably across your eyes and block out all light, enabling you to achieve a restful sleep.
During the summer months, daylight can convince your body it’s not time for bed yet or it can wake you up too early. Wearing a sleeping mask will help your natural body clock determine the right time to go to sleep and the right time to wake up.
4: Avoid Heavy Meals Close to Bedtime
The quality of your sleep can be impacted negatively by late-night eating; particularly if the foods consumed are full of sugar and/or caffeine. Because these substances cause hormone disruption and place your brain on high alert, it then becomes difficult to get to sleep. However, the type and quality of the food you consume late at night could well play a role in how well you sleep. We know that cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine can negatively disrupt sleep, and eating big meals or spicy food can cause discomfort, thus making it harder to fall asleep.
Ideally, you will avoid eating large meals at least two or three hours prior to bedtime; however, if hunger pangs hit, it’s important to know what to eat to avoid a restless sleep. The following snacks can be safely consumed approximately 45 minutes before settling down for the night –
- Almonds: Because almonds are rich in magnesium and tryptophan, they reduce nerve and muscle function whilst steadying the heart rhythm.
- Bananas: Rich in magnesium, bananas also contain serotonin and melatonin which relaxes muscle and encourages sleep.
- Turkey: Turkey is a great protein that helps make you feel full – it’s also a great source of tryptophan. Try making Turkey Roll-Ups by spreading cream cheese and cucumber slices on turkey, then roll them up!
- Oats: Instant oatmeal with milk, topped with blueberries and chopped walnuts, makes for a delicious snack, and besides encouraging insulin production, this snack promotes sleep-inducing melatonin and is rich in minerals, vitamins, and amino acids.
- Milk: Milk warmed on the stovetop or in the microwave, with a dash of honey and cinnamon, makes a delicious snack.
- Honey: 1 teaspoon of honey can help us wind down by releasing melatonin in the brain and shutting down hypocretin (also known as orexin) which regulates wakefulness.
- Yoghurt: A serve of plain Greek yoghurt with a drizzle of honey, some strawberries and sliced almonds is a highly nutritious snack which should encourage a restful night’s sleep. Alternatively, blend the yoghurt with frozen cherries and baby spinach leaves to make a delicious fruit smoothie.
5: It might be Time to Change Your Mattress and/or Pillows
A good quality mattress will last for approximately 9 or 10 years, but most people admit their mattress is a lot older than that. It’s important that your mattress and pillows are comfortable and that your bedroom looks inviting. If purchasing a new mattress is out of the question, you’ll find a wide range of inexpensive mattress toppers available on the market today that can give your tired, old mattress a new lease on life. Replacing your ageing pillows can also be a simple and inexpensive way of promoting good, sound sleep.
6: Stop Taking an Afternoon Nap
Taking a short rest after lunchtime can be very beneficial for many people; however, if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, we suggest you avoid taking an afternoon nap.
7: Stick to a Sleep Schedule
We all have a body clock, and our body clock loves routine. Create a sleep schedule that works for you and stick to the same bed-time and wake-up time every day of the week, including weekends! Sticking to a schedule helps regulate your body’s clock, thus helping you easily fall asleep and stay asleep until your body clock says it’s time to wake up.
This post was originally published in March 2019 and has been updated regularly since.