Although it is widely accepted that sleep is an essential element to good health, it is unclear the exact amount of sleep we need. Generally speaking, the younger we are and the more we are growing, the more sleep we need. Children need around 11 hours of sleep per night, teenagers need at minimum 8.5 hours of sleep per night, and even adults still need 7.5-9 hours of sleep. These numbers are a helpful start to ensuring you are getting enough rest but sleep is more a matter of quality, not quantity. Nine hours of tossing and turning will likely leave you feeling worse in the morning than five hours of deep sleep. Although there is no surefire way to ensure a perfect night’s sleep, there are several things to avoid and to try for falling asleep and staying asleep.
Everyday habits that are normal in the daytime can prohibit a good sleep at night, so it’s best to avoid them leading up to your bedtime:
• Having a television in the bedroom creates noise and light that make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Computers do the same. Even checking social media on your phone at night before bed can deter sleep. Screens are not good an hour or so before bedtime because the brightness mimics daylight, tricking the brain into thinking it should be awake. Nightshift mode on Apple devices is good if you have to be on your iPhone or iPad before sleeping, but avoiding screens altogether is best to let your brain relax.
• Be careful of what you ingest before bed. Caffeine after noon has lasting effects that can make it hard to fall asleep, even many hours after you have it. Alcohol may make you drowsy but can interrupt your REM cycle, preventing you from achieving deep sleep.
• Exercise can help your body fall asleep and stay asleep, but exercising too close to bedtime can act as a stimulant and keep you awake. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow and raises your heart rate, making you alert and ready for your day. Work out in the morning to reap the benefits that exercise can have on your daytime activities and on your sleep.
Now that you know what to avoid before bedtime, it’s important to know what you can actively do for better sleep:
• Keep your bedroom cool. Studies suggest that the perfect room temperature for a good night’s sleep is between 65-68 degrees.
• Your room should also be dark, since any light that crosses your eyes while you sleep is a potential disturbance to your slumber. Consider blackout curtains if light exposure is a persistent problem.
• Just as any light your eyes pick up can cause you to stir, so can any noise. As much as you love your pets, if they are causing disruptive noises in your bed or bedroom, it’s best to remove them.
• Your body is a creature of habit. Circadian rhythms help you get accustomed to going to sleep at a certain time every night. Anything that throws off that consistency is a potential roadblock to sleep. Try to extend the same sleep and wake times from your weekdays to the weekends as well.
Whether you are recovering from an illness, prepping for a big upcoming presentation, or in need of an energy boost, sleep always seems to be the solution, the cure-all. The innate habit of sleep affects every part of our bodies throughout our lifespans and various parts of our everyday lives, which is why quality sleep is vital to maintaining physical and mental health. These reasons are also why the opposite is true: sleep deficiency can lead to major health problems and negatively impact your day-to-day. Getting better sleep may not happen in one night, but working to improve it is worth the journey.
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