Insufficient sleep is a significant public health issue, period.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults doesn’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, which can result in both short- and long-term consequences. It’s essential that you actively work toward optimal sleep patterns.
Studies have linked a lack of sleep to everything from poor judgment to an increased risk of disease. In fact, based on previous research, poor sleep quality can impair brain performance as much as alcohol does.
If you’re not getting enough sleep or aren’t sleeping well, it’s time to take back control. Ready to actively change your sleep patterns and improve your health? Follow these five steps.
Step 1: Understand Your Body’s Sleep-Wake Cycle
Working alongside Mother Nature, rather than fighting her, is one of the best strategies for ensuring your own well-being. Believe it or not, all living species follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, including plants, animals and even fungi. Known as your circadian rhythm, this is essentially your body’s natural “clock” – which is modulated by cues such as temperature and sunlight.
Top tip: Select a bedtime when you normally begin to feel tired, preferably between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Going to bed at the same time each night and waking around the same time each morning will help optimize your internal clock. This includes weekends. If you need to make up for lost sleep, then take a 15- to 20-minute nap that day instead of sleeping in. This will allow you to target what’s known as sleep debt without affecting your natural sleep-wake cycle.
Step 2: Be Mindful of Light Exposure
As night approaches and the sun goes down, there’s a reason why we begin to feel sleepy. Aside from the hustle and bustle we experience during the day, a hormone known as melatonin is secreted when it’s dark, increasing feelings of sleepiness. When it’s light out, your body releases less melatonin, making you feel more alert.
Top tip: Did you know that the light from your TV, phone, computer and other devices can disrupt this natural process? Instead of vegging on the sofa scrolling through videos, why not read a book, draw or even perform a few relaxing yoga poses an hour before bed? During the day, expose your body to sunlight and let as much natural light into your home as possible. You should also consume more melatonin-producing foods on a regular basis, such as barley, cherries, bananas and oats.
Step 3: Change Your Diet
Not only does food act as a source of fuel during the day, optimal nutrition also plays a role in how well you sleep at night. Foods that are high in caffeine and sugar, for instance, stimulate key brain chemicals and hormones, which is why a natural, whole-food diet is recommended. As noted in a sleep study published in Appetite, it was found that people who sleep for very short or very long amounts of time consumed a less varied diet in comparison to normal sleepers.
Top tip: When you work with your body, it’s better able to function at an optimal level. From controlled cortisol levels to the glycemic index of your diet, all of these factors play a role in how well you sleep. The more natural and balanced your diet is, the better your body will respond. Ditch processed foods and replace the standard American diet with more fruit, fish, vegetables, legumes, whole sprouted grains, nuts, seeds and plenty of water. Focusing on your gut health is also critical.
Step 4: Practice Gratitude
Being grateful has been linked to better mental health, but it can also help you improve your ability to sleep. As you begin to focus on the positive aspects of your life, you let go of negative, damaging thoughts. In one key study, it was found that those who express gratitude on a regular basis experienced greater sleep quality and optimal sleep duration. Increased gratitude has also been associated with better health, an increased degree of happiness and an enhanced quality of life.
Top tip: Starting today, focus on the simple pleasures you experience on a daily basis. Whether you consciously appreciate the delicious omelet you ate for breakfast or the way the sunlight hits your face, learning to be grateful for more than momentous occasions can be life-changing. A gratitude journal is a great way to shift your daily thoughts, increasing life satisfaction and resulting, in turn, in improved sleep.
Step 5: Get Moving
It’s no secret that exercise promotes better health, but did you know that physical activity is also linked to sleep? Although the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, researchers believe that regular exercise reduces sleep issues by decreasing anxiety while influencing body temperature and the body’s circadian rhythm. In fact, research shows that as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can dramatically improve your sleep patterns.
Top tip: If you’re not one to exercise, start small. Beginning today, make the effort to walk to the store or even ride a bicycle to work. It’s all about changing your routine, moving away from potentially destructive habits. Relaxation exercises are also a great place to start, as you learn to practice deep breathing – a technique that improves sleep quality.
Integrating the five steps above into your daily routine is likely to not only improve sleep patterns but also enhance your overall health and quality of life. After all, everything within your body is connected. In addition to healthy new lifestyle habits, ensure an optimal sleep environment, focusing on temperature, comfort and sound. Take action today to improve the quality of your sleep.
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