It happens to us all. We get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep, but still wake up unrefreshed. Getting stuck in a cycle of bad sleep may feel like fighting a losing battle.
Like any pillar of health, the quality of your sleep is intrinsically connected to every other aspect of your wellness. Improving your habits around sleep, then, can prove beneficial in every other area of your life.
We talked to Elain Moen, our director of wellness, about the importance of sleep — and what to do when you aren’t getting enough of it. According to Moen, while sleep is just as vital to your well-being as food and water, it may be harder to recognize a deficiency in your sleep bank when you’re not getting a healthy amount.
Below, we’ve listed the reasons it’s important to pay attention to how much sleep you’re getting. Beyond that, you’ll find actionable tips for improving your quality (and quantity) of sleep.
According to our CEO, Rich Bello, these tips can be powerful in providing you a superb night’s rest — and galvanizing you for better performances at work and at home.
What Can Be Caused by a Sleep Deficit?
Bad sleep will eventually catch up with you. According to Moen, the most severe costs of not getting quality sleep run the gamut from health to professional performance to emotional changes. These costs include:
- Increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Less testosterone for men, thus faster aging. Overall, poor sleep has a negative impact on the endocrine system, specifically the pituitary gland, which releases growth hormones.
- Increased difficulty concentrating and focusing.
- Compromised memory. The hippocampus, the memory section of the brain, closes when there is sleep deprivation.
- Risk of high blood pressure due to negative impact on the heart and blood vessels.
- Weight gain. Sleep affects leptin and ghrelin, hormones that control hunger and full feelings.
- Disrupted emotions and increased sensitivity to the experience of feeling giddy or moody – which can leave you prone to mood swings.
- A weakened immune system, which increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes mellitus.
- Poor balance, which could lead to injury.
- Decreased sex drive.
That Said, Here’s How to Get Amazing Sleep.
Preparation for getting a good night’s sleep begins long before your head hits the pillow, according to Moen and Bello. Here are their favorite tips.
1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!
On a basic level, exercise is a great way to get good sleep because it exhausts your body and muscles. Aerobic exercise is the best type of exercise to inspire good sleep, but you may have to play around with different exercises and routines to see what works for you.
For example, doing aerobic exercise too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect on your sleep. If you do feel like exercising in the evening, yoga might be the best alternative since it promotes rest and relaxation.
“Our body temperature needs to cool down when we are going to sleep as our core needs to be 2-3 degrees colder for sleep to set in,” explains Bello. “If you do more strenuous exercise, do so at least four hours before bedtime. This will kick in your parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes you — slowing down your breathing and heart and getting you ‘in the mood’ for sleep.”
2. Keep to a Routine
Having a fixed routine is one of the best habits you can maintain for quality sleep. When your mind and body are used to a routine, it trains your body to fall asleep easily.
Bath, meditation, reading, writing, music, tea: These are all good examples of pieces you can add to your routine to improve your sleep, adds Moen.
“Clutter can cause sleep issues,” says Bello. “Keep your room clutter-free as a cluttered room makes for a cluttered mind that is not sleep-inducing. Rituals that are relaxing should be done prior to bed such as reading (not from blue light), relaxing music, playing with your pet, visualization, guided meditation, warm bath, etc.”
3. Reduce Screen Time
Like daylight, the blue light from screens tells your brain to stay awake. For this reason, you should try to eliminate technology one to two hours before bedtime.
Many elements of technology are designed to keep you using your device for as long as possible. This means that, even if you do use tools like blue light-blocking glasses technology can still suck up your free time and push your bedtime back farther than you planned.
4. Use Natural Light
Moen says, “Get adequate sunlight in the morning and afternoon/evening. This helps to increase melatonin.”
Just as it is important to eliminate blue light before bedtime, it is important to get adequate natural light during the day. Since your circadian rhythm is regulated by light exposure, strategically managing your light exposure can set you up for good sleep the moment you wake up.
“You can also cover your eyes with a sleep/eye mask to keep all light out (use silk or polyester satin, as cotton absorbs moisture and will dry out your eye skin). Daytime light from the morning sun is good. If you do not have artificial light coming into your room from the outside at night and are able to leave your shades open, the best alarm clock is the sunlight which will naturally wake you up,” Bello adds.
5. Try Aromatherapy
Certain scents or essential oils can be useful tools in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Moen suggests lavender, sandalwood, cedarwood, ylang ylang, peppermint, and bergamot for a quality night of rest. She also recommends, “Apply[ing] a relaxing/calming essential oil on the bottom of your feet.”
The reason? Our feet have the biggest pores on our bodies. Therefore, your body is easily able to absorb the oils and benefit from their properties.
6. Reduce Caffeine Consumption
Many people have a dependency on caffeine, but eliminating caffeine after 2pm is vital for getting good sleep. Even if you don’t feel wired after an afternoon cappuccino, the caffeine may still affect the quality of your sleep after you’ve gone to bed.
Alcohol is typically the antithesis of caffeine, and many people utilize the drowsy feeling they have after a drink or two to fall asleep. Bello, however, also cautions against this, “Alcohol should be limited or excluded entirely before bed. Alcohol serves to interrupt your sleep, even though you may not realize it the next day other than being foggy. It especially impairs your REM sleep, which is necessary for memory.”
7. Engage in Grounding Practices
Grounding practices — or walking barefoot — can help you get to sleep easier and stay asleep. This is likely due to the role it plays in reducing the cortisol levels in your body and the sense of mindfulness you experience.
Before bed, take a barefoot walk in the garden and try it for yourself!
The Bottom Line
Sleep is vital, but quality sleep eludes many people. Creating a set of habits to aid in your sleep can be a game changer for your sleep patterns.
Expect some trial and error in creating your habits for proper sleep. Everyone has different needs and starts at different points, so keep looking for ways to optimize your sleep.
If you want support creating healthier habits, reach out to one of our Arootah Coaches for a personalized plan.