Good quality sleep is key for superior beauty and health. While we have varying needs as to the amount of sleep we require, in general the National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, although there are individuals who fall outside of these parameters. When we don’t get enough sleep to meet our individual needs, many things suffer including:
- Weight loss
- Motor skills
- Ability to cope with stress
- Sex drive
- Cardiovascular function
- Mental health
One British study, known as the Whitehall II study, even showed that regular insufficient sleep correlated with higher rates of death.
Clearly sleep is important. Yet many of us unconsciously engage in behaviors that decrease our ability to fall asleep, as well as the quality of sleep we get. Let’s look at some of the worst offenders.
1. Working on your computer, e-Reader, smartphone, or tablet right before bedtime
All of these devices (with a few exceptions such as the Kindle) have one sleep-harming element in common: a backlight. According to more than 30 years of studies conducted at the Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the light from electronics has a significant effect on human circadian rhythms, which affects how quickly you fall asleep, as well as the quality of sleep you get.
According to Dr. Charles A Czeisler of Harvard Medical School, “Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep.”
Surfing the Internet, playing games on your iPad, or watching a television show right before bed can also over stimulate you, making it difficult to calm your mind enough to get right to sleep. Instead, curl up with a book, have a quiet conversation with your spouse before you head off to bed, and make time to meditate.
2. Consuming alcohol
While alcohol is a mild nervous system depressant that makes you feel tired, consuming it at bedtime can actually disrupt your sleep, according to a study in the May 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
According to one of the study’s authors, J. Todd Arnedt, alcohol will help you fall asleep quickly but it has a significant disruptive effect on sleep. This effect is more pronounced in women than men. In fact, after consuming just one drink, women woke more frequently, had fewer hours of sleep, and were awake for longer stretches than men. This occurred regardless of family history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
Instead of reaching for that drink before bedtime, try a nice bath or gentle stretching, which can relax you and put you in the right frame of mind to drift off to a great night’s sleep.
3. Eating right before bedtime
Every time you eat, your body gets to work digesting the foods. While this may make you feel sleepy, your body is in full on work mode, making it difficult to obtain the relaxation necessary for sleep. If you are going to eat before bedtime, do so no later than an hour before you hit the hay and avoid stimulating foods such as spice or chocolate. Instead, have a snack like chia pudding, which has a good mix of complex carbs, proteins, and fats to help you enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Ideally, you should have dinner at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. And never miss out on your post workout snack to avoid midnight cravings or late dinners.
4. Setting an alarm next to your head
If you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t think twice about setting the alarm clock on your bedside table before you go to sleep. The problem is, that alarm clock can disrupt your sleep, making you feel as if you’ve barely gotten any when it comes time to hit the snooze button in the morning.
One of the problems with LED alarm clocks is the same as other electronic devices: it introduces a source of light into your room that disrupts your circadian rhythms. Your alarm clock also gives off electromagnetic frequency (EMF). Some studies link EMF exposure to melatonin interruption and depletion in rodents and humans. Melatonin is a hormone necessary for sound sleep.
Instead of setting the alarm right next to you, move it to a dresser across the room. Avoid other electronic devices on your bedside table such as radios or MP3 players, as well.
5. Staying up late and sleeping in
Sleep experts suggest that a consistent sleep routine and schedule is essential for high quality sleep. One clinical case study showed that by establishing a bedtime routine and consistent sleep schedule that varied less than 15 minutes on bed and waking times resulted in shorter time required to fall asleep as the subject became accustomed to the schedule. Sleeping schedules aren’t just for little babies! In fact, many experts recommend going to sleep and waking at the same time every day in order to create high quality sleep.
What can you do? Set a routine – even on the weekends – and stick with it. It will help improve how quickly you fall asleep, as well as your sleep quality.
6. Turning on the light when you go to the bathroom
Sometimes getting up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break is inevitable. Rare is the night when I don’t get up to pee at least once. If you turn on the bathroom light, however, the brightness can interrupt your circadian rhythms, making it difficult for you to go back to sleep. Instead, try a bathroom nightlight or keep a dim flashlight next to the bed. Avoid drinking large quantities of fluids before bedtime, as well, in order to avoid this problem altogether.
7. Keeping your bedroom too warm (or too cold)
When you sleep, your body’s temperature drops mildly. This mild drop in temperature actually primes you to sleep and helps you stay there. Keeping your room relatively cool (about 65 to 68 degrees) can help put you in just the right state to fall asleep quickly; however, if the temperature rises or falls, you may be less likely to experience quality REM sleep, according to Ralph Downey III, Ph.D., Chief of Sleep Medicine at Loma Linda University.
To reduce your chances of being too warm or too cold, set the thermostat to about 68 degrees and make sure your room is well ventilated.