The National Sleep Foundation recently released new recommendations for how much sleep we need—from infants to the elderly. Some of the ranges for children and teens have changes but the standard seven to nine hours per night for adults stands firm. (To see the breakdown of recommendations by age go to www.sleepfoundation.org)
While some still use the adage “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” the reality is that lack of sleep is linked to health condition that could get you there sooner.
Sleep is absolutely critical for our health and well-being. While you’re sleeping, your liver and brain clear toxins and your immune system is strengthened. Lack of sleep has been associated with long-term chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Plus, if you aren’t sleeping well, chances are it is having a negative effect on your stress levels, productivity, focus, and mood.
If you have trouble falling asleep, are waking up in the middle of the night, or aren’t waking up rested, you could be putting your health at risk. Try these five tips for getting better sleep tonight:
1) Sleep in the dark: Melatonin is a hormone that rises at night and helps us go to and stay asleep. However, it is very light sensitive. For it to rise and be effective, it has to be dark. To that end, make sure your room is completely dark. Turn off night-lights, cover lights from electronics, and get room-darkening shades. If you need a night-light, choose one with a red bulb. Red light does not interfere with melatonin production.
2) Unplug before bed: For many people, the last thing they see at night is the screen of their computer or cell phone. These electronics emit strong light directly into your eyes that can also depress melatonin production. Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed to get your body ready for sleep. Instead, read a book, do some stretching or enjoy a cup of tea.
3) Stay in rhythm: Sticking to a natural sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm) keeps your body in balance. Having a regular bedtime and wake time helps your body stay in that rhythm, ensuring better sleep and more energy when awake. What is important is to stick with the same bedtime and wake time even on the weekends and during vacation. Sleeping in on the weekends and on days off can throw your body out of balance again.
4) Go to bed early: You might claim to be a night owl or be more productive after midnight. However, your body can’t clear toxins and do repairs if you’re surfing the Internet or mopping the floor at 2 a.m. Try to go to bed by 10 or 10:30 p.m. to give your body plenty of time to do its job so you can do yours—when the sun is up.
5) Create a comfortable bed: Your bed should be a place that you look forward to relaxing and sleeping in. If there is something about your bed or bedroom that is uncomfortable, then change them. Is your mattress old and soft? Are your sheets too hot or too cold? Maybe your pillows are lumpy and uncomfortable. Invest in your bed and make it a place of peace and relaxation that you look forward to.