8 Habits To Better Sleep
On average, we’ll spend approximately 26 years asleep. That’s over 9,000 days or almost 230,000 hours. It’s an essential part of our lives and is vital to our overall health, particularly our brain health.
Our body needs an average of seven to ten hours of sleep a night. However, busy lifestyles, stress, and even changes in sleep patterns as we age can chip away at how much sleep we end up getting. Because sleep is such a vital part of our existence, developing healthy sleep habits is one thing we can do to take better care of our body and brain.
1- Set a sleep schedule
Of all the things we can do in order to ensure we get healthy sleep, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is the most important. One common misconception many have is that we can catch up on sleep. Unfortunately, it takes up to four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep. That means maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is vital to our sleep health.
2- Exercise daily
It may seem counterintuitive, but staying active throughout the day is a fantastic way to keep our sleep on track. Being active for 30 minutes a day improves sleep quality for a myriad of different reasons. It releases endorphins and lowers cortisol levels in our brain, which work to keep our brain awake. It also stabilizes our sleep-wake cycle so we can not only fall asleep at consistent times but fall into a deeper, higher quality sleep as well.
3- Be aware of lighting
Our circadian rhythm largely drives our sleep-wake cycle. And this rhythm is directly affected by light, specifically blue light. Sunlight is made up of an array of light, but one that impacts our circadian rhythm directly are the blue rays. These are strongest in the morning, which is why getting sunlight right when we wake up can help us feel invigorated and energized. These rays lower as the sun sets, allowing our brain to release melatonin and prepare for sleep. Unfortunately, many of the devices in our modern-day life, such as televisions, computers, and phones, also have blue light in them. Using blue light glasses at night or avoiding screens for at least one hour before going to bed can help reduce the effect blue light has on our brain and help us fall asleep.
4- Eat healthy food
Food plays a crucial role in how well we sleep. A diet consisting of high fiber and low sugar helps us fall asleep faster and can increase the amount of deep, slow-wave sleep we get each night. Sugar and caffeine can not just keep us awake but wake us up throughout the night as well. And because they stay in our system for several hours, we want to avoid them at least eight hours before going to bed. Spicy foods can lead to heartburn or acid reflux, so minimizing those before bed will lead to better quality sleep as well. And foods rich in magnesium and vitamin B boost and balance our melatonin levels, the neurochemical vital to healthy sleep.
5- Create a sleep-friendly environment
Paying attention to where we sleep is an important step in getting quality sleep every night. We get our best sleep in rooms that are cool, dark, quiet, and have minimal clutter in them. If we live near bright street lights, we can get blackout curtains or use a sleep mask to keep the light out. Earbuds or earplugs designed for sleep can help minimize noise. Ideally, we’d minimize screen time by avoiding watching television in bed. But a healthy sleep environment also extends to making sure we have a comfortable and supportive mattress, bedding, and pillows. And we want to only use our bed and bedroom for sleep, keeping work or other daytime activities in other areas of our home whenever possible.
Meditation has significant health benefits, one of which is healthier sleep. Studies in biopsychology, the study of behavior on the brain, has shown that meditation can reduce insomnia by reducing and managing extreme emotions like anger, anxiety, stress, and depression. Meditating before bed can help our body and mind relax so we can fall asleep faster and experience deeper sleep as well. And meditating during the day can help keep our sleep cycles on track. If we’re feeling tired or fatigued, ten minutes of meditation is equivalent to roughly forty minutes of sleep, so meditating instead of napping can give us the energy boost we need without disrupting our sleep-wake cycle.
7- Know when to nap
Naps can be a secret weapon to daytime productivity but there’s a trick to napping without sacrificing our sleep cycle. First, we want to aim for naps that are ten to twenty minutes long, never going over thirty minutes if we can help it. Second, we don’t want to sleep past 3 pm so that we aren’t disrupting our natural sleep rhythms. Drinking a small cup of coffee before starting our nap can also help us wake up within the allotted time, as caffeine takes roughly twenty to thirty minutes to take effect.
8- Read a Book
One habit that can help develop healthy sleep and reduce screen time before bed is reading a book. In 2009, University of Sussex researchers found that reading a book for at least six minutes before bed lowered stress by 68%. Reading fiction has been found to be as relaxing as meditation, in that it takes our mind out of our worries and allows us to fall into different thought patterns. By clearing our minds, we ease into a relaxed state that helps us fall asleep. Keep in mind, while some e-readers are designed to have low levels of blue light, tablets or phones won’t have the same effect. Actual books are ideal.
Making small changes to our daily routines can make a world of difference when it comes to healthy sleep. If we implement healthy sleep habits and still find ourselves struggling, we always recommend seeing a medical professional. Getting quality sleep is one of the most important facets to ensuring our body and mind perform at optimal levels, unlocking our limitless potential.