Lack of sleep can be frustrating when you’ve tried everything in your power to help you fall asleep faster but just can’t seem to. There’s no limit to what you can accomplish in a day when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. For many people, it’s not what you're doing that prevents you from sleeping at night. It’s what you aren’t doing. Developing a healthy sleep routine is crucial for waking up feeling refreshed. Here’s how and why you need to do it.
Sleep deprivation is one of the nation’s most common yet widely ignored health problems. As many as 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder that affects their daily functioning and longevity. However, approximately 90 percent of adults who have significant sleep problems remain undiagnosed (1).
Studies show that sleep loss is linked to obesity (2), diabetes, problems with glucose control (3), mood and anxiety disorders (4), including an increased risk of suicide (5), and cardiovascular morbidity (6). Sleep loss also makes you more prone to accidents both on the job and behind the wheel.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigue is responsible for causing 100,000 car accidents and 1,550 deaths due to auto accidents each year in the United States alone.
Sleep loss also affects your safety at work. One study found that workers who were sleepy during the day had more work related accidents and sick days (7).
Lack of sleep has terrible effects on the brain. It decreases alertness, kills your sex drive, and impairs your attention span, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Studies show that not sleeping well at night causes you to age faster, makes you more likely to become depressed, causes weight gain, and makes you forgetful (7).
When it comes to sleeping better at night, your body prefers a nighttime routine. In fact, your body prefers a routine during the day too, such as eating and exercising at the same time daily. But sleep is especially dependant on a routine. Use these tips to help develop a method that works for you so you can wake up feeling refreshed.
One of the best things you can do for your body is to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each day. It’s hard to avoid the temptation to sleep it on days when you aren’t required to get up early, but don’t give in! A routine wake up time helps you set your internal clock, which is also known as your circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is the mental, behavioral, and physical changes that accompany a 24 hour time period (8). It responds to light and darkness, such as when you go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning. The circadian rhythm controls the release of melatonin, which is responsible for making you feel drowsy at night. Melatonin levels decrease during the day when you are exposed to light so you can stay awake and be productive.
People who have control over their circadian rhythm get to the point where they don’t need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning for work. Experts recommend waking up at the same time every day even when you don’t go to bed on time, such as on the weekends when you’re more likely to engage in nighttime social events.
Be careful of nighttime events that might throw off your internal clock. Social jet lag is a term that refers to the dramatic alteration of your sleep cycle (9). It occurs when people take on different sleep patterns on the weekend then they do during the week. If you’re a chronic partier on the weekend but still have to get up early on Monday morning for work, you may be increasing your risk of health related problems such as obesity (9).
Forget about trying to catch up on sleep during the week. Research shows that recovery sleep doesn't do much for you. According to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology, recovery sleep might help you reduce stress levels, but it doesn’t correct performance deficits. In other words, you might feel better during the day after trying to make up for lost sleep on the weekend, but your brain will still perform as if it’s still sleepy (10).
Getting the right amount of sleep during the week and on the weekends means you won’t need to play catch up. This might cause your social life to take a hit, but it’s a small price to pay if you want to look and feel better.
According to a 2011 poll done by the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 95 percent of Americans use an electrical device before bed (11). As many as 63 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who use electronics at night end up falling asleep with them.
While it might seem relaxing to scroll your news feed or watch television before bed, it could be keeping you awake. Bear in mind that even if you aren’t a smartphone or portable device user, you could still be kept awake at night by anything that emits light and signals to the brain that it’s daytime.
According to Doctor Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School, “Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour — making it more difficult to fall asleep.”
Instead of turning to electronics at night to help you fall asleep, reserve the bedroom for sleep or sex only. If you must, read a book. When your bedroom doubles as a place to sleep and a social place to check phones or watch television, your brain has a hard time deciphering what it should be doing in that room.
Have you ever tried to fall asleep when you didn’t feel tired? By the end of the day, most of us are either mentally exhausted or can’t seem to turn off our brains. That’s where exercise comes in.
Research shows that people who exercise sleep better than those who do not. The National Sleep Foundation’s American poll found that more than 80 percent of individuals who exercised vigorously reported sleeping fairly good or very good at night. But exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous to be effective. The poll found that 76 percent of people who performed light exercise also reported having fairly good or very good sleep.
While it’s a good idea not to exercise too late at night, it doesn’t hurt to take an after dinner stroll or light walk. People who participated in the poll didn’t report a difference in their sleep habits when performing physical activity at night instead of earlier in the day. When it comes to exercise, it’s always best to fit in some than none at all. But since everyone responds to exercise differently, you’ll have to experiment with your exercise and sleep cycle to find what’s right for you.
When done correctly, a midday nap can help get you through the day. But napping too late in the day or for too long can cause you to lose sleep at night when you really need it. Be sure not to take a nap after 4 pm as this may disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night. The best time to nap is between 1 and 3 pm. Aim for 30 minutes. Any nap that lasts longer than that may cause you to fall into deeper phases of sleep, which will make you feel even more tired than before the nap. If you do not sleep well at night, you may want to skip a daytime nap altogether and focus on your nighttime routine.
Establishing a nighttime routine is the best way to ensure you will wake up feeling refreshed the next day. Start by removing all electronics from the bedroom. Focus on going to bed at the same time every night and avoid sleeping in. Be a cautious napper and make time for exercise during the day.