Chances are if you’re human, you’ve had trouble falling asleep. You’ve also likely felt the negative effects a bad night of sleep can have. No surprise! The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers lack of sleep a “public health problem,” noting that one-third of Americans are not getting a regular amount of sleep. The stress from the coronavirus pandemic has added complications by causing insomnia for millions of Americans, which can lead to harmful long-term effects on our nervous systems.
Typically, adults between the ages of 18 to 60 are recommended at least 7 hours of sleep every night. When people aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep, they run the risk of impairing their immune systems. Sleeping helps the body produce cytokines, a protein with immune-boosting properties that are essential for white blood cells to thrive, help tackle the day with enough energy, and prevent illnesses. Without enough sleep, the body decreases its production of cytokines, and this makes us prone to viral and bacterial illnesses.
Sleep deprivation symptoms alone are enough to hinder your daily life. Some common symptoms include fatigue, mood changes, memory loss, brain fog, hallucinations, and paranoia. Brain fog is a condition that affects your ability to think normally. It can leave you feeling confused and disoriented, making it hard for you to focus on putting simple thoughts into words. Brain fog can impair work performance and eventually lead to less desirable consequences for your career.
The human body also works hard when we sleep. While we’re dozing off, our body is able to repair muscles, boost tissue growth, and release hormones to help us maintain a healthy metabolism and optimal physical wellbeing. Sleep also helps us maintain a healthy body weight.
When sleep deprived, our body alters the levels of important hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. So if you feel hungrier or eager to snack on junk food when you’re tired, there’s a reason.
Sleep also reduces our cortisol levels dramatically which reduces our ability to cope with stress. With the right amount of sleep, our concentration, moods, decision-making skills, and memory processing are improved. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, reduces mental clarity and can result in the body and mind losing out on all restorative benefits that come with catching some Zs.
Did you catch all that? Sleep is vital to everything when it comes to health! And in order to improve it all, consider making several lifestyle changes to improve your quality of sleep. A common recommendation among experts is increasing sunlight, or bright light, exposure during the day. Exposure to sunlight during the day helps you maintain a circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural time-keeping clock. Research studies show that more sunlight improves daytime energy and sleep quality at night.
Try to also set a consistent sleep schedule. Studies have shown that irregular sleep patterns result in poor sleep. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day will help set your body up for optimized sleep quality in the long-term. In a matter of weeks, you won’t need an alarm to wake up.
During the evenings, opt to wear blue-light filtering glasses when watching TV, sitting in front of a computer screen, or scrolling on a smartphone. Blue-light is notorious for reducing melatonin, preventing you from relaxing, and increasing episodes of insomnia by messing with your circadian rhythm. At night, exposure to blue light, which is commonly emitted through electronic devices, tricks your mind and body into thinking it’s still daytime.
In addition to avoiding screen time, stay away from alcohol, and caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Make your bedroom a safe haven from any distractions or temptations that could impact your sleep quality. This means leaving your smartphone, iPad, and TV out of the room. If your apartment has thin walls or your neighborhood gets rowdy at night, invest in a white noise machine to drown out the noise.
If you’re still having trouble sleeping, there are still a few methods to help you doze off. Take a calming bath or shower. Research shows that taking a hot bath for an hour and a half can boost sleep quality and help adults fall asleep faster. Drink a soothing tea. For centuries, chamomile tea has been used as a natural remedy for inflammation, anxiety, and insomnia. If all else fails, there’s always counting sheep, a form of meditation or mindfulness, that can help you find your slumber. The less you think about it, the closer you are to a good night’s rest.