Achieving a good night’s rest is more than just the amount of time you spend in your bed. There are several reasons you may not be finding sleep so easily or waking up tired. Let's look into cleaning up your sleeping routine and getting you on the best path to live your fullest life.
During sleep, our brain integrates the happenings of the day allowing us to heal physically, retain memories, and recover emotionally. Sleep is not all created equal, there are different stages of sleep and getting adequate amounts of each phase are important.. NREM, or non-rapid eye movement, sleep is the stage of sleep responsible for clearing out unnecessary neural connections and creating new receptors from information during the day. This stage happens early in the sleep cycle. As you progress into deeper sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) takes over. REM is commonly known as the dream state. Your brain works to create new connections between old information and new information that has been created by NREM sleep. This stage of sleep could be called integrating sleep. During this stage your brain works to assimilate the information that it took in from the world around you during the previous day and connect it to previously stored information.
We all value sleep and have a desire to achieve more time in that beautiful state of restfulness. Despite our best efforts, the WHO has declared sleep deprivation an epidemic in most industrialized countries. Adults over the age of 17 need an average of 8 hours of sleep per night. When the human body tries to operate on less than this for any length of time (even just a few days) there can be extreme consequences: Memory loss, decrease in mental and physical performance, physical injury, decrease in fertility, higher risk of heart attack and stroke are just a few of the outcomes when sleep becomes a non-priority.
Conversely, benefits of adequate sleep include:
Quicker physical recovery
Ease of emotional processing
Retanation of new information
Boosted immune system
Maintenance of hormone levels (affecting mood, hunger, fertility, stress etc)
Where you sleep may be just as important as how long you sleep. Your mattress, pillow, sleep position, and surroundings can all play a part in the quality of sleep you’re achieving. Your pillow and mattress are vital not only to your physical recovery, but to the quality of your sleep. You have to find the perfect balance between being too hard (to the point of discomfort) or too soft (when your body sinks in and collapses on itself, causing physical soreness when you wake). Foam mattresses such as Avocado or Tuft and Needle are great supportive choices and have the benefit of being non-toxic! Pillows should be supportive enough to keep your neck in horizontal alignment with the rest of your spine, while again, being comfortable for you.
The answer to the best sleeping position is simple: on the stomach. On your back, you are putting pressure on your tongue, throat and lungs, impeding your breathing while you sleep. Sleeping on your side is a little better, though finding a good arm position may prove difficult. While on your stomach, you are best supported and can create the most space in your body. Even if you start on your stomach for a time and then move while you sleep, the time spent on your stomach will be beneficial to relaxing into sleep.
Lastly when looking at your environment, take a look at your thermostat; The temperature in your sleeping quarters may be playing a part as to why you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. It is generally recommended that you sleep in a cool environment- around 60-65 degrees Farenheight. If this is unachievable, look at your bedding to find cooling sheets, pillows, or even pajamas to keep you cool while you sleep
As you stay awake throughout the day, a chemical called adenosine builds up in your brain. The longer you are awake, the more this chemical builds up and acts like a pressure gauge. The stronger the pressure, the greater the desire to close your eyes and go to sleep. You typically can resist the adenosine build up for 12-16 hours.
Your eyes are very smart! This can be both good and bad; when trying to sleep, even just 8-10 htz of light (less than the average bedside lamp), can trick your brain into not releasing melatonin. Melatonin is the chemical responsible for initiating sleep. You can also dampen this chemical by using any sort of screen before bed. The Blue light in LED lit screens greatly inhibits your melatonin production and release, thus putting sleep even farther from you. Even up to 1-2 hours before bed, a screen can inhibit your ability to fall asleep. However, you can use this to your advantage. If you are having a particularly difficult time staying awake for bedtime, take a walk out in the sunshine. This will trick your brain into thinking it is not quite time for sleep and you will be able to stay awake until it is time to go to bed. Black out curtains can also be helpful in decreasing ambient light in your bedroom.
Last on the checklist of improving your sleep routine, coffee. Over 50% of the US population drinks coffee and 60% of those people say they are reliant on its caffeine. Caffeine (of all kinds) is not an energy supplement. It works by attaching itself to the receptors of adenosine (the chemical that tells you that you are tired) and lessens the feeling of sleepiness. It does not reduce this chemical, however, which is what causes the “caffeine crash” when it wears off. A cup of coffee has a 5-7 hour half life span. This means, even if you have a cup of coffee at 6pm, only about 50% will have been processed out of your body by 1am!
8 hours is the most ideal amount of sleep you should shoot for. If you’re not there, start by going to bed a few minutes earlier, then 30 minutes, then an hour until you’re finding yourself sleeping the full 8 hours. If you’re still tired when you wake in the morning, look at the other factors we’ve discussed and see which ones you can improve on! Again, small steps can have big effects. The benefits of adequate sleep touch every aspect of your life! The first step of prioritizing good sleep is giving yourself the opportunity for achieving 8 hours.