How to Improve Your Overall Sleep Quality
Everyone sleeps, but what exactly happens while we sleep and why is it so important?
In the modern world, sleep is considered a last priority, but it should really be at the top of your list. Sleep has a variety of benefits such as improving memory, processing emotions, bettering our immune system, and so much more. Without it, people’s lifespans shorten and immune systems worsen. If you do not get enough sleep it can become physically and mentally dangerous.
Sleeping is much more complicated than just closing our eyes for 8-10 hours, our brains actually goes through a 90 minute cycle while we are asleep. This cycle includes three stages of nREM sleep and one stage of REM sleep.
This is when our brains experience slow wave sleep also known as delta wave sleep. During this stage, our memories are being consolidated from the previous day, this is why it’s important to sleep after studying for a test or learning a skill at a new job. nREM also helps us repair muscle tissue, bones, and strengthens the immune system.
This stage is shortened for Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During this stage, our brains become active and we start to dream. This kind of sleep is beneficial for processing emotions and dealing with traumatic experiences.
The functions of each type of sleep are significant to our mental and physical well-being. There are a variety of ways to improve this.
How can I improve my sleep?
1. Maintain a sleep schedule.
Make sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. We recommend setting a reminder for bedtime, this way your sleeping pattern will stay the same. Also try to avoid sleeping in on the weekends, it will only make it harder to wake up for work.
2. Schedule your exercise several hours before bedtime.
Do not exercise two to three hours before bedtime, it will make it more difficult to fall asleep. However, studies have shown that a person who exercises everyday, has an easier time falling asleep at night. As long as it is not right around bedtime.
3. Cut caffeine and sugar from your diet.
Caffeine and nicotine are two stimulants that can remain in your system for up to eight hours. If you drink coffee, use nicotine, or consume sugar too late in the day, you will have trouble falling asleep that night.
4. Be conscious of your naps.
Naps are great and actually important to our sleep cycle. Studies show that countries who utilize an afternoon nap have longer lifespans than those countries who do not. However, if you nap too late in the day it can negatively impact your ability to fall asleep at night. Try napping before 15:00 if you are able to. This will greatly improve your health.
5. Take a hot bath or shower before bed.
Bathing before bedtime is recommended because throughout the day we are exposed to pollution, dirt, and germs. Not only does this scrub away the dirt from the day, it also makes it easier to fall asleep. When we are trying to fall asleep, our body temperature needs to drop at least two degrees. Taking a hot shower or bath will warm up your body and then when you get out it will have an easier time dropping in temperature.
6. Try to reach nearly perfect sleeping conditions.
As mentioned before, your body temperature has to lower before you can successfully fall asleep. Therefore, it is important that you keep your room a low temperature and sleep with minimal clothing. It is also important to keep your room dark and to remove all electronics because those can distract you from much needed sleep. If you live in a bright city, invest in black out drapes which will keep the city light out of your bedroom.
7. Avoid alcoholic drinks and other sedatives.
While these substances can help you relax, they greatly decrease the amount of REM and overall sleep you experience. Studies have shown that when alcohol wears off at night, you will most likely wake up and have trouble falling back asleep.
8. Avoid large meals and beverages before sleep.
If you eat a large meal, you may experience indigestion and discomfort. Consuming a lot of liquid may keep you up due to increased need to use the bathroom.
9. Relax before bed.
Leave time to relax and unwind before bed. Instead of sitting on the phone or computer for hours before bed, try reading or listening to calming music. If you absolutely must use your devices, set them to night mode, this decreases the amount of blue light you are exposed to. Blue light is what is given off from devices such as computers, tablets and cellphones and has been shown to delay sleep onset.
10. Get enough daylight exposure.
Daytime light exposure is important to maintaining our circadian rhythm (24 hour sleep cycle). Try to get outside for at least 30 minutes everyday, even if it is just going for a drive or looking out the window. Getting this light exposure in the afternoon will improve your ability to fall asleep at night.
11. Do not lie awake in bed.
If you are having trouble falling asleep and have been in bed for 20 minutes or so, try getting out of bed and doing a relaxing activity. Your bed should strictly be for sleeping, do not study in bed, eat in bed, or lay in bed throughout the day. This will trick your brain into thinking bed=sleep and will improve your ability to sleep in the future.
12. Go to a specialist
If you find these methods do not work for you and believe you may have a sleeping disorder, make an appointment with a specialist. They will give you alternate methods for falling asleep and staying asleep.
Nei Jing Chinese Medicine offers some options as well. Acupuncture and Laser Acupuncture have shown to improve sleep as well as meeting with our Naturopath about how your diet effects your sleep quality.
Sleep should be your number one priority, with sleep deprivation comes decrease in health and mood.
Contact us and schedule a consultation if you are experiencing problems sleeping.
Written by Bailee Plotnick
“Why We Sleep” Matthew Walker
“Stages of Sleep” Web MD