The number of hours a person needs to sleep will vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. To function optimally, it is suggested that most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. About thirty percent of people say that they don’t feel that they get enough sleep. Our hurried lifestyles and nearly nonstop interaction with technology and screens may have something to do with it.
During our waking hours, a chemical called adenosine builds up in the blood. While we sleep, the body breaks down adenosine. When we don’t sleep for a sufficient amount of time, adenosine builds up in the bloodstream. This, in turn, will make us more sleepy and slow down reaction time.
But catching up on sleep is easier said than done. Most sleep experts say that you actually cannot catch up on sleep at all. Once you’ve missed it, it’s too late. This is because our body and brain need to get the right amount of sleep on a regular basis to function well. The common strategy of sleeping less throughout the work week by staying up late and waking up early to head to the office—and then sleeping in as late as possible on the weekends—causes the body to remain in a constant state of exhaustion and confusion.
Just like with financial debt, sleep debt has to be repaid, sooner or later. The more sleep you miss, the bigger your balance. But you can’t simply sleep an extra hour to make up for a lost one. Paying off your “sleep debt” slowly and gradually is the most effective method. This, in combination with following better sleep habits, is the key to getting an adequate amount of hours of shuteye each night.
Here are some ways of encouraging higher quality, more regular sleep:
1. Clean up your sleep hygiene habits
An important sleep hygiene practice follows the Goldilocks principle: to spend just the right amount of time asleep in bed, not too little or too much.
Contrary to what it sounds like “sleep hygiene” has little to do with cleanliness while and where you sleep, but more to do with the bedtime rituals and nightly habits that are conducive to your overall sleep quality.
For example, frequent sleep disturbances and sleepiness during the day are clear signs of poor sleep hygiene. If it takes you too long to fall asleep most nights, you should consider evaluating your sleep routine and revising your bedtime habits. Just a few minor changes can make a world of difference between a good night’s sleep and night spent tossing and turning.
2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol at night
Steer clear of stimulants close to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make it hard for you to fall asleep, so it’s better to drink only in the morning, or at least three hours prior to bedtime. Instead, reach for any of the following herbal teas: lemon balm, passionflower, valerian root or lavender. These natural remedies will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
When it comes to alcohol, moderation is key. While alcohol is well-known to help you fall asleep faster, too much close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol.
3. Exercise daily and get enough sunlight
Exercise regularly to promote good quality sleep. Even just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can improve nighttime sleep quality. Do, however, avoid partaking in a strenuous workout too close to bedtime.
Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Getting out in the sun helps our body clock regulate by producing melatonin. Melatonin tablets are sold as a natural sleep aid — but it’s preferable to get melatonin from nature rather than a pill. Being out in the fresh air helps, as well.
4. Take a power nap
Power naps can help refresh the body and mind. A short nap of 20 to 30 minutes often helps us feel better emotionally and more alert and productive. After about 30 minutes, you’ll go into deep sleep and it will be harder to wake up.
When we wake up during deep sleep, we can feel groggy and tired.” Set your alarm for a 20-minute nap to avoid this conundrum. It’s ideal to nap prior to two o’clock in the afternoon, to prevent the from affecting your ability to get to sleep on time at night.
5. Eat to sleep
Avoid that can be disruptive to sleep, especially at dinnertime or after. Heavy, rich foods; fatty or fried things; spicy dishes; citrus fruits; and sodas or other carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion, which could cause painful heartburn that disrupts sleep.
Instead, choose a small dinner of vegetables, fruit, soup and the like along with a warm mug of chamomile tea.
6. Relax before bed
Do something relaxing to wind down and get ready for bed. Take a hot bath or read a good, old-fashioned book instead of using electronics, which can disrupt sleep. Also, try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before attempting to sleep.
Try guided relaxation techniques or meditation videos. There are plenty to choose from on YouTube or via apps on your phone or tablet that are specifically designed to assist with sleep, alleviate insomnia and induce deep relaxation. A profound meditation session can make you feel as if you’ve taken a refreshing nap.
Sweat out your stress in the sauna or steam room. Unplug by disconnecting your phone from data and wifi—or, better yet, turning off your phone at a certain time each evening. Bright light from lamps, cell phones and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep. Turn them off and go analog for at least two hours before bedtime.
If you are a light sleeper and especially sensitive to light or noise, consider using blackout- and soundproof curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, white noise machines, humidifiers or fans, if needed.
The goal is to get enough sleep during the week, so that you don’t need to catch up on weekends. No matter how busy you are, making the time to sleep a little more each weeknight is essential to health and well-being. By spending extra time sleeping during the week, you’ll ultimately save time by being more productive and efficient in your daily activities.