A good night’s sleep can do wonders. We feel better, work better, and make smarter decisions when we're well rested. On the flip side, things can get a bit scary when we’re not getting enough sleep. Poor sleepers are at greater risk for heart attacks, cancer, and diabetes. Furthermore, their libido, skin, and problem-solving skills suffer. And driving while sleep deprived? That’s a big no-no. According to the National Sleep Foundation, driving after being awake for 18 hours straight equates to doing so with a blood alcohol level of .05 (.08 is considered drunk). If it’s been a full 24 hours since you last slept, it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10.
Sleep is important, and getting a full night, every night, should be your ultimate goal. If you’re having trouble getting the shuteye you need to be a fully functioning member of society, consider the following solutions to your sleep woes.
Create a Bedtime Routine
Sleep experts recommend following a nightly schedule in order to improve the quality of your sleep. Since our bodies aren’t particularly fond of abrupt changes, a bedtime routine can help you transition from your busy day, preparing you both mentally and physically for sleep. Here’s a sample routine to get you started:
- Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. It’s up to you to determine what time you need to go to bed in order to hit that magic number. Once you’ve discovered your what your optimal amount of sleep is, set a consistent bed and wake time.
- An hour before bedtime is the cut-off for chores, work activities, television, computers, and any other electronic devices. You may want to set an alarm to remind you to shut everything off and transition into your wind-down routine.
- Now that you’ve stopped working and turned off your electronics, it’s time to get ready for bed and quiet your brain. Turn down the lights and engage in an activity you find relaxing, whether it be meditation, journaling, reading, or something else. After you’ve determined which activity relaxes you the most, do it every night.
A good bedtime routine has to be consistent — which means you need to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This is a crucial step in setting your body’s internal clock. The more consistent you are, the better the quality of your sleep will be.
Prepare Your Room
Your sleep is greatly impacted by your environment — and the best environment is cool, dark, and quiet. Our bodies associate a lowered temperature with sleep, which is why the ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The perfect temperature is different for each person; menopausal women and those who prefer to bundle up in blankets may want to aim even lower.
We sleep better in the dark, and even dim lights can be misinterpreted by our brains as a sign to wake up. What’s more, light can be detected through your eyelids — and your brain won't produce melatonin if it’s confused between night and day. To create a truly dark room, you may need to invest in blackout curtains. It’s also important to remove any device that emits light — even if it’s just the power indicator on your phone charger. Light is the enemy, and it’s your duty to banish it.
Quiet is also essential to sleep — which can be a bit of a problem if you live in a noisy area. You can dampen sound by placing a thick rug on the floor and heavy curtains over the windows. White noise can also be incredibly helpful (I use a fan). If none of these things are doing the trick, it might be time to grab some earplugs to muffle outside noise completely.
Your bedroom's main purposes should be sleep and sex — using it for anything else can negatively impact your sleep. Treating your bedroom as a place for other activities only leads to your brain associating the room with those things. It’s imperative you refrain from using your room as a gym, office, or playroom. You need your brain to associate your bedroom with sleep, so get rid of anything that could cause it to do otherwise. No computers, no televisions, no treadmills, and so on.
Make Your Bed a Sleep Haven
Your bed is not only the centerpiece of your bedroom, it also the key to quality sleep. Your mattress, pillows, and bedding really can make all the difference in the world. Ideally, you should replace your mattress every 7 years and your pillows annually. Consider replacing your mattress if:
- It is older than 7 years.
- There are visible signs of wear.
- You regularly wake up with aches and pains.
- You find yourself sleeping better elsewhere (like a hotel).
- Your bed isn’t big enough to comfortably fit you and whomever you share it with (your partner, children, or pets).
As for your bedding, look for something that feels nice against your skin and promotes coziness. If you’re a heavy sweater, you may want to invest in moisture-wicking fabrics that absorb excess moisture and keep you cool.
Finally, it’s important to wash your sheets at least once a week and clean your mattress regularly. If you don’t, you may find yourself dealing with a nasty build up of dead skin, mold and mildew, blood, urine, and other bodily fluids. And really, who wants to sleep in that?
Treat Any Conditions That Are Keeping You From Sleeping
There are a number of medical conditions that interfere with sleep, but the top offenders are insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and mental health disorders. If you’re having trouble with any of the aforementioned conditions, here are some ideas to help you get a better night’s sleep:
Insomnia is simply awful. Not being able to get to sleep (or stay that way) makes for a miserable existence. Insomnia can be lessened by:
- Moderate (not vigorous) exercise on a regular basis, such as swimming or walking
- Reduced caffeine intake. Avoid tea, coffee, energy drinks, or colas, especially in the evening
- Natural sleep aids, such as melatonin or magnesium
Insomnia is often a response to a stress and should disappear as the stress abates. However, if insomnia lasts for more than 3 weeks; if it is not improving — or if it is interfering with your ability to function during the day, it’s time to seek help from a doctor.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes uncomfortable sensations (most often in the legs) that are frequently described as being tingly, crawling, pulling, or creeping feelings that cause an overwhelming urge to move the affected limb. If you have RLS, getting quality sleep can be difficult, as your legs may cause you to wake up multiple times throughout the night. Here are a few things that can help in the short term:
- Daily exercise
- Leg massage
- Iron supplements
- Applying a heating pad or ice pack
- Taking a hot bath
Unfortunately, these measures rarely provide more than temporary relief. If RLS is keeping you from getting the sleep you need, it may be time to discuss medications (such as dopaminergic agents or anticonvulsants) with your doctor.
Mental Health Disorders
Studies estimate that 65-90 percent of adults suffering from depression experience some form of sleep concerns. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of adults with generalized anxiety disorder are affected by sleep disorders. Insomnia is also common among those with post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobic disorders. What’s even more distressing is that sleep issues actually contribute to mental health disorders, creating a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break free from.
If you have a mental health disorder that’s causing sleep disruptions, talk to your doctor or therapist about what steps you can take to ease your symptoms.
A consistent bedtime routine: a cool, dark, and quiet room; a clean and comfortable bed — these are the things that will help you get the quality sleep you deserve. It’s time to give your sleep the attention you give your waking hours. If you do things right, you may just find yourself feeling happier and more fulfilled — and that’s worth everything.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter@LizVGreene.