We all understand that sleep is vital for our health. Though, like many things that we understand are good for us, it can often get pushed to the wayside in a busy life. The irony is, the better we sleep, the more capable we are in dealing with such busy lives.
I recently completed my master’s thesis on the links between sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease. And while having poor sleep doesn’t 100% guarantee we’ll get Alzheimer’s or similar conditions as a result, it definitely contributes to a lot of health problems that can add up over the years.
In the short term, as many of us with young children know all too well, even one night of sleep disturbance can impact how well we cope emotionally the next day. This can significantly impact our interactions with family and friends, ability to work, and respond to unexpected changes in our lives.
On a longer time-frame of consistent sleep disturbance, such as what insomniacs experience, the effects can be hard to notice in ourselves, but occur all the same. It can lead to complications such as increased blood pressure and heart disease risk, fatigue, difficulty remembering things, depression and/or anxiety, increased likelihood of motor-vehicle accidents, a decrease in immune system function, weight gain and digestive issues, to name but a few.
The good news is that sleep and improving sleep quality is gaining a lot of attention in the scientific world, and as a result, there are many things we can do, without professional help, to improve our sleep quality. Here are a few suggestions:
- Try to get as much morning sunlight into our eyes as possible. This will help activate areas of our brain responsible for regulating our circadian rhythms, even if the sun is not out.
- Avoid screens if possible after dusk. Related to the above point, light is the single most powerful factor that affects our sleep rhythms. Blue light (from either the sun, or our devices) wakes up and stimulates our brain, which is helpful in the morning, but not in the evening. Try red light/night settings with screens in the evening, or better yet, read a book! This point has had the most immediate and noticeable effect on my own sleep improvement.
- Try to avoid overeating at dinner. The balance here depends on eating enough to not be hungry in the night, but not too much. Taoist monks in China have suggested eating to 70-80% satiety for thousands of years, and they’re known for the great health and longevity.
- Stay hydrated! Hydration is an often-overlooked factor in many health problems, and every cell in our body requires adequate hydration levels to function properly. Many complex recovery processes occur in our brains during sleep and proper hydration levels are key to their function.
- Maintain a schedule. Easier said than done in this day and age, but going to sleep and waking the same time each day hugely compliments our circadian rhythms. This helps the body predict and prepare for sleep and begin processes to wind us down in the evening, a requirement for good sleep.
I really hope this helps. As someone who has experienced insomnia, I understand just how much this can affect our well-being. Like anything to do with health though, there is no single solution or quick-fix, consistency is key, and a positive mindset and broad approach is essential. Happy sleeping!