Few things can derail your day as effectively as a night spent tossing and turning. Rack up a few nights like this and you’ll begin to run a sleep deficit that can cost you physically, mentally and financially. But you don’t have to accept your ever-growing caffeine addiction as a part of your daily defense against fatigue. The best way to combat fatigue is to sleep – and sleep well – consistently.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than a third of all Americans are not getting enough sleep, which for most adults is seven to nine hours of sound sleep each night. About 20 percent report sleeping far less than that, averaging less than six hours of sleep a night.
You might think you can get by on less sleep with a few more cups of coffee or an energy drink or two. Heck, you might even think you’ll get more done during those extra hours of wakefulness. Think again. While that may be true for the occasional late-nighter, habitual sleep loss exacts a high toll on your body, mind, and spirit leading to a loss of productivity in the long run.
The high cost of your sleep deficit
Before the era of modern sleep research in the 1920s, scientists thought sleep was simply a state when the brain was inactive. Modern technology like EEGs allowed scientists to study brain activity while subjects were asleep, and they were astonished to find that the brain was highly active during sleep. Eventually, researchers and medical professionals came to understand that disruptions in that activity could lead to serious consequences for health and well-being.
More than a third of all Americans are not getting enough sleep.
Poor sleep hygiene can make you physically sick
You know from your own experience that missing a good night’s sleep makes you feel terrible. You’re sluggish, shaky on your feet, and feel weak all over. The cumulative effect of sleeping poorly or not enough night after night is far more serious than just that yucky feeling of fatigue.
Sleep deficiency weakens your immune system, putting you at risk for more infectious diseases like colds and flu. The long-term effects of not getting enough shut-eye put you at greater risk for serious health problems like:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
While you might not notice health problems like these right away, you won’t want to ignore one immediate physical effect of sleep deprivation that shows up in your appearance. Research has shown that sleep-deprived people are less attractive and appear less healthy than well-rested people — because they are. Your bleary eyes, sagging facial muscles and slumped posture could have an impact on your social life and even your career advancement. Turns out, “beauty sleep” is not an indulgence — it’s important therapy.
Consistently missing a good night’s sleep can deteriorate your mental health
Ask any new mother and she’ll tell you all about the psychological effects of sleep deprivation. Increased stress and irritability, an inability to concentrate, and memory lapses are just some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation new mothers and other sleep-challenged people experience.
And these feelings are not just inconvenient and annoying. Studies show that people suffering from chronic insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression and 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder. Depression and anxiety can, in turn, disrupt sleep even further, leading to a vicious cycle of sleeplessness and mood disorders. Healthy sleep habits enhance not only physical health but also your overall well-being.
Lack of sleep is costing the U.S. economy about $411 billion.
There’s a high price to pay for America’s lack of sleep
We’re talking about money here, and lots of it. Lack of sleep is costing the U.S. economy about $411 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) through lower productivity levels, more sick time, and higher mortality risk among workers.
It seems like getting the best night’s sleep you can is not only good for you, it’s good for your country. So do your civic duty, and get a great night’s sleep.
Understanding the toll that poor sleep can have on your mind and body can be shocking. But there’s still hope for you. By simply upgrading your sleep hygiene, you can help guarantee that you’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and every night.
10 ways to improve your sleep hygiene and ensure a good night’s sleep
1. Become a creature of habit
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. This will set your body clock so that your body is ready for sleep at the routine bedtime and ready to wake up at the same time every morning.
Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep. Determine how much is optimal for you then reserve the same seven to nine hours every night for sleep.
You may not even realize how stressed you are until you give yourself permission to leave all your worries behind and get yourself prepared for sleep. Make winding down part of your bedtime routine, right after brushing your teeth.
- Read a book.
- Write a to-do list to get those nagging tasks on paper and off your mind.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Do gentle yoga exercises.
- Pray or meditate.
3. Set the scene
Create a relaxing environment in your bedroom for sleep. Your room should be dark, quiet, and uncluttered. Yes, that means dirty clothes in the hamper, not on the floor. Keep the temperature on the cool side, between 67° and 72° F to promote sound sleep. Turn out all lights and eliminate outside light sources with blinds or curtains. If noise from the street disturbs you, use earplugs or a white noise machine to drown out the sounds.
4. Invest in the proper tools
If you are kept awake or disturbed by tossing and turning, your mattress may be the culprit. The Better Sleep Council recommends replacing your mattress every seven to ten years. If you’ve reached the seven-year mark, you should evaluate the health of your mattress. Mold and mildew can grow on older mattresses, and once they take hold, it’s hard to get rid of them. These fungi can cause respiratory problems that can ruin a good night’s sleep.
A mattress in good condition will support your spine and keep it properly aligned. You may not even notice that your spine is misaligned while sleeping and think you are sleeping well enough. But if your mattress is sagging and unsupportive, it could be robbing you of the best night’s sleep possible. Morning aches and pains, lower back pain, and headaches are all signs of a worn mattress that you shouldn’t ignore.
5. Improve your mattress hygiene
Keeping clean sheets on your bed can actually improve the quality of your sleep. Clean sheets regulate your temperature better, smell better, and feel better. You’ll want to add vacuuming to your list of seasonal chores as well. This may seem like a task only people with OCD do, but they are actually on to something. Not only will your mattress last longer if you keep it clean, but you’ll sleep better if it is free from dust and the uninvited guests it attracts. Even if you sleep alone, you are actually surrounded by millions of microscopic dust mites that feed on your dead skin and enjoy the warm, moist climate of your mattress.
Vacuuming your mattress every few months will remove the dust mites’ favorite buffet and cut down their population. That’s good news for people who are allergic or have asthma. Breathing in the dust mites’ waste (eww…) can cause allergy and asthma symptoms that make it hard to sleep. Even if you don’t have allergies, you will breathe easier and sleep better knowing there are no freeloaders in your bed.
6. Power down
Eliminate electronic devices from your bedtime routine. The blue light emitted from TVs, smartphones, laptops, even lighted e-readers disrupts sleep by signaling to your brain that it’s time to rise and shine. It also suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate your natural sleep rhythm.
Keeping your electronics away from your bed will also help you to resist the urge to check your text messages, email, or news feed that can overstimulate your brain just as you are trying to unwind.
7. Give up siesta time
Babies do it; older people do it; people in other cultures do it. The afternoon siesta is not only a time-honored tradition; there is a physiological urge to shut down briefly in the afternoon in order to recharge and ward off the drive to sleep. And while that may be fine for people who generally sleep well at night, if you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, sleep experts recommend avoiding the afternoon nap.
8. Jump on the essential oil bandwagon
Several essential oils have been known for centuries to promote sound sleep. Use in a diffuser or add a few drops to a carrier oil and apply to the bottoms of your feet or inside your wrists. (Most essential oils cannot be applied to the skin without being diluted. Be sure to test any oil for an allergic reaction before applying in quantity to your skin.) You can also dilute a few drops of essential oil in water and spray onto your pillow and sheets.
Essential oils that will help you get the best sleep ever include:
- roman chamomile
9. Skip the hot tamales
Eating spicy food at night (and especially close to bedtime) can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Studies show that eating a spicy meal increases body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep. This also disrupts almost all of the five stages of sleep.
10. Switch to decaf
You wouldn’t dream of facing your day without coffee, but it may be keeping you from dreaming at night. If you must have a jolt of caffeine in the morning then go ahead and treat yourself to a cup, but switch to decaf after noon.
And don’t forget, caffeine comes in a variety of forms including:
- hot and iced tea
- hot chocolate
- energy drinks
If you spend night after night in a futile quest for a good night’s sleep, you should consult with your doctor. There may be a medical reason for your sleeplessness that requires a medical solution.