When we are asked to consider or identify what "health" is or what it means to "be healthy," we frequently include body weight, body mass index (BMI), exercise, and nutrition in our definition. In reality, "being healthy" may be best defined by joyful movements, balanced nutrition, stress management, social connectedness, and, most importantly, quality sleep. Sleep is critical for both mental and physical health and should not be limited.
- Sleep issues and sleepiness are major health concerns in our society, according to the American Sleep Association. According to statistics:
- Some sleep disorders affect 50-70 million American adults.
- 9% of American adults admitted to dozing off
- during the day (unintentionally)
- Short sleep duration is reported by 37% of 20- to 39-year-olds and 40% of 40- to 59-year-olds.
- 3% of adults report sleeping for less than 7 hours in a typical 24-hour period (even 30 minutes less than the minimum carries consequences)
Adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but more than one-third of the population does not get the recommended number of hours.
Consequences of Poor Sleep Quality
Inadequate sleep has a wide range of effects on the body. Individuals with poor sleep quality and duration have less energy, less self-regulatory control, an increased craving for sweet, salty, and starchy foods, and higher levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and lower levels of leptin (appetite-control hormone). Furthermore, getting less than five hours of sleep per night increases your risk of obesity by 50%. Immune system deficiencies, increased blood pressure, an increased risk of heart disease, an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety, irritability, forgetfulness, and an inability to focus are some of the other negative effects.
In short, experiencing sleep deprivation and attempting to work, live, and function while sleep-deprived has serious long-term health consequences. Physical fitness and health are important, but so are sleep fitness and hygiene.
"The statistics are real and necessary to awaken us to the importance of sleep," says Beverly Hosford, author of the five-week sleep programme Sleep Soundly. "However, stressing about sleep can affect the timing and quality of sleep, so starting with stress reduction is often a great first step. What we do during the day has an effect on the night. Closing your eyes and focusing on your breath right now can help."’
How to Develop Better Sleeping Habits
To promote and support better sleep, sleep fitness, like physical fitness, requires effort and the implementation of small changes in daily behaviours. Before you can effect change, you must first raise your level of awareness, and the best place to start is by examining and tracking your sleep habits over the course of a week. Take note of the following:
- What you do before going to bed (read, watch TV, scroll social media, etc.)
- When do you turn off the lights? When do you get up?
- Caffeine and alcohol consumption
- When do you eat dinner?
- The temperature in your living space
- The kind of light you're exposed to before going to bed
- Your energy levels during the day
You are more likely to discover a pattern of behaviour and make connections between the quality of your sleep and the behaviours you engage in if you journal your observations. You can refine your habits to promote better quality and more restorative sleep once you know what your sleep ritual, routine, and contributing (or detracting) behaviours are.
"Select one habit that you are ready to change and journal or focus on it for a week," Hosford advises. "Then, go to the next one that you can shift within your lifestyle. The best changes to make are those that you are prepared to make."
Make Minor Modifications
No two people require the same things to sleep well; developing habits for better sleep, such as regular physical activity and proper nutrition, is highly personal and should be tailored to your specific needs and goals.
Here are a few strategies to consider to improve your sleep experience:
- Make a calming and consistent night-time routine that includes 30 minutes of "winding down" time. This includes not bringing your laptop or phone to bed (avoid exposure to screens and blue light in general). Dim the lights because bright lights can interfere with melatonin production. Try different relaxation techniques to see what works best for you, such as reading, bedtime yoga, a hot bath, meditation, or mindful breathing.
- Engage in some physical activity. Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, so commit to daily physical activity.
- Reduce your alcohol consumption because it will interfere with your sleep later in the night.
- Caffeine consumption should be reduced in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can keep you wired for several hours after you consume it.
- Consuming a large meal too close to bedtime may cause discomfort.
- Make your bedtime and rising time consistent. Make an effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Sleeping in on weekends or days off from work, as tempting as it is, will disrupt your sleep pattern.
- Attempt to get some natural light early in the day. Sunlight aids in the regulation of the body's natural circadian rhythm.
- Purchase a pillow and mattress that provide full-body support.
- Reduce screen time and block out the light before going to bed.
- Some people find that "white noise" such as a fan or portable machine helps them sleep.
Sound and consistent sleep hygiene will not always solve sleep problems. If you have chronic fatigue, consistently poor sleep, or any physical ailments that may be caused by a lack of sleep, you should seek the advice of a sleep specialist and/or your primary care provider, as sleep disorders require specialised treatment to be resolved.