As we have demonstrated this past week, a lack of quality sleep is potentially responsible for a number of long-term problems including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and diabetes. Now, with all that in mind, what can you do about it so you do not suffer from the long-term effects of sleep debt?
Because of the connection between sleep and chronic pain it is important for pain patients to get a better understanding of the effects of sleep and how to improve the quality of it in their lives. The vicious cycle can seem never-ending: pain makes it difficult to sleep, but the lack of sleep makes pain much worse during waking hours. Worrying about the lack of sleep increases the likelihood that sleep won’t happen or, when it does, that it will be fitful. How can you stop this cycle? There are a number of ways, from medical to behavioral, that you can change your own sleep patterns to get better quality sleep each and every night.
1. Make sleep a priority
You’ve probably heard plenty of advice to make lots of things in your life a priority. Experts say you should carve out time for exercise and make sure you’re eating right. In the workplace the “work life balance” is a big topic to encourage employees to make their personal lives as much of a priority as their professional lives. In all of these conversations, no one ever seems to mention sleep. The first thing everyone should do to ensure that their quality of sleep begins to improve is to give it the priority it deserves. Learn not to make excuses to avoid sleep and over time it will become easier.
2. Establish bedtime routines
This tip might be cheating because it is actually several tips in one. A bedtime routine has proven successful across the board. People who have good bedtime habits see significant better sleep quality than those who do not. No two bedtime routines are the same but some common ones include turning off the television at the same time every night, putting on pajamas and brushing your teeth, and crawling into bed and reading in silence for about a half an hour before turning off the light. If this sounds simplistic, that’s because it is. These techniques are tried and true.
3. Create a regular sleep schedule
In conjunction with a good bedtime routine is the need for a regular sleep schedule. While there may be exceptions for special events, these really do need to be the exceptions not the rule when it comes to sleep. Instead, start your bedtime routine at approximately the same time every night. Wake up at the same time every morning with the help of an alarm. Do this even on the weekends if you can so you avoid negatively affecting your internal sleep clock.
4. Nap when necessary
People do not embrace napping nearly enough in our hectic Monday through Friday schedules. It sounds like a luxury only afforded to a small, elite minority of people or kindergarteners. However, napping has a number of restorative benefits. Napping has been shown to help people relieve stress and boost the immune system of individuals who do not get very much sleep at night. If it can do all that for people who get as little as two hours sleep at night, imagine what it can do to improve even a minor sleep debt without infringing on quality of sleep at night.
5. Improve your mattress
Of course, it is no secret that your mattress has as much to do with your sleep quality as your night time routines and your body’s physiology. You don’t even have to break the bank to buy a brand new mattress to improve the problem. A comfortable mattress topper, such as a pillow-top or memory foam topper, can do almost as much to help you get a better night’s sleep as investing in an entirely new bed. While you’re at it, consider replacing your pillow more often than you do to make sure it is still comfortable. And use the right pillow for your sleep style.
6. Make it dark
There is quite a bit of research that shows that backlit electronic devices are disturbing our sleep cycles. Well, that isn’t the only culprit. Many people don’t sleep well at all even if there is a sliver of light in their bedroom. This means obscuring all clocks and other small lights and using black-out shades to block out ambient light from your neighborhood.
7. Turn down the heat
Temperature has as much to do with sleep quality as darkness. You’ve probably experienced restless nights where you find yourself in an endless loop of throwing the covers off of you throughout the night because you’re simply too hot. A lower temperature in the house actually helps your brain understand that it is time for bed. Plus, you’ll save a little extra in energy costs when you’re not actively heating the rest of your home.
8. Don’t eat before bed
Midnight snacks and late dinners are also a big problem when it comes to finding sleep. In fact, that is literally what late night meals do. Because your body is focusing energy on digestion it causes you to have less restful sleep. Don’t eat anything after a normal dinner time if you can. If not, make sure to have your last snack before 8 p.m. This applies to alcohol as well. While you might feel sleepy after a glass or two of wine, your sleep will actually be disrupted.
9. Drink non-caffeinated tea
If you do want to add comforting refreshment to your bedtime routine there is nothing better than non-caffeinated tea. Whether it is some blend of herbal teal that promotes sleep or the soothing flavors of South African rooibos, tea can be a very relaxing ritual. Before the holidays last year we discussed the ways that tea could be a cure for cold weather, but the right formula can help all year long.
10. Don’t hit snooze
Finally, there is one more thing that can help you improve your overall sleep quality. When your alarm goes off in the morning, don’t give into the temptation to hit snooze. In fact, that extra nine minutes of sleep does nothing to make you feel more refreshed and awake at all and will leave you tired and sluggish as you struggle through your morning routine. Alarm clocks aren’t all that healthy to begin with but they are necessary for many working professionals, so don’t make the experience worse by giving into the snooze button temptation. If you think you might, put your clock on the other side of your bedroom so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.
What tips have worked to help you improve your sleep?
Image by Charles Williams via Flickr