Healthy Habit Highlight: Sleep

Sleep is a life-sustaining activity just like eating and breathing. If you have a positive, healthy sleep pattern, you have more physical energy to get you through the day, more mental strength to help you in work or at school, and more emotional stability to help you handle stress.

Importance of Sleep

You’ve probably noticed that you feel better when you get enough sleep and feel worse when you don’t. The scientific knowledge on sleep is not exact, but we do know that, for whatever reason, sleep is crucial to our ability to function properly. According to the restorative theory, our body is able to rejuvenate and heal itself during sleep. Things such as muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release all happen mostly or only when we sleep.

Sleep is also important to brain development in children and the ability to learn and perform tasks in adults. When you are deprived of sleep, your ability to focus and retain memory are both affected, making learning much more difficult.

Consequences of Insufficient Sleep

In the short term, insufficient sleep can affect your judgment, mood and ability to learn and retain information. You may also be at an increased risk of serious accident and injury. In the long term, if you suffer from chronic sleep problems, you may be at risk for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.

Lack of sleep can also have consequences in the workplace. You may see errors in your work as a result of a negative sleep pattern as well as reduced efficiency and productivity.

Good Sleep Habits

The following tips can help you improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.

Avoid caffeine and other stimulants

Generally, it’s a good idea not to have caffeine for 4-6 hours before bedtime. Alcohol may induce sleepiness at first, but it behaves like a stimulant just a few hours later, so it’s best to avoid consuming alcohol before bed as well.

Create a sleep-friendly environment

Some people can fall asleep anywhere, but having the right conditions in your bedroom can help your body understand when it’s time to sleep and help you sleep more soundly. Generally, a quiet, dark and cool environment is the most conducive to sleep. You can keep your bedroom quiet either with earplugs or a white noise machine and you can keep it dark with curtains or by wearing an eye mask. You should also keep your room at a comfortable temperature somewhere between 60 and 75 degrees.

Have a consistent bedtime routine

Let your body know that it’s time to sleep by going through the same bedtime routine each night. Limit your bedtime routine to relaxing activities such as taking a bath, reading a book or doing simple exercises. Don’t discuss emotional issues or engage in stimulating activities such as work. Physically demanding or mentally exhausting activities increase your level of alertness – the exact opposite of what you want to happen as you’re winding down in the evening.

Don’t watch the clock

Watching the clock as you try to fall asleep can increase your stress level, making it even harder to fall asleep. The same is true if you wake up in the middle of the night and look at the clock. If you find yourself frequently tempted to check the time at night, turn your clock away from you and avoid the temptation altogether.

Have a consistent sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at different times throughout the week can mess with your body’s internal clock. With a consistent sleep schedule, your body can begin to expect sleep at a certain time, making the process of falling asleep and staying asleep much easier. It can be easy to get off your sleep schedule on the weekend, but trying not to veer too far from it can help make the transition to Monday easier.

Be wary of naps

Napping isn’t necessarily a bad habit unless you tend to nap late in the day. Napping in the afternoon can decrease your sleep drive so it’s best to take naps before 5pm and keep them short.

Be careful what you eat before bed

It’s not a good idea to eat heavily right before bed. It’s also not a good idea to eat foods before bed that might cause indigestion. Limit your late night snack items to dairy foods, carbohydrates or other items that, in your personal experience, won’t disturb your sleep.

Exercise early

Exercising and being active during the day can help you sleep better at night if you time it correctly. Completing your workout early in the day might be best, but as long as you finish exercising at least 3 hours before bed, you should be good.
Some of these tips may be easier to implement than others, but it’s important that you stick to them even if it becomes difficult. Only once you’ve made a conscious and deliberate effort to fix your sleep habits will you start to see positive results in your life.

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