Sleep may be a natural process, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting enough of it. On average, adults need seven hours of sleep, yet many of us get far less. Many aspects of modern life contribute to this growing problem, but so too does unawareness of how behaviour can affect the body’s ability to fall and stay asleep. An understanding of the ‘why’s’ behind sleep deprivation can lead to the answers of ‘how’ to consistently get more.
Today, there’s a push to get ahead, especially in a global climate where business and information stream 24/7. Rest and, more specifically, sleep have lost their value as people push to climb the professional or social ladder. However, sleep can be a key factor in maintaining the mental and physical health needed to accomplish any goals.
How do you add value to sleep? Push it to the top of the priority list. That may take a mental, and sometimes financial, investment in the quality of your sleep. If you’re sleeping on a mattress that’s more like a canoe than a flat, supportive surface, invest in one that supports your weight and sleep style. A sleep space that’s valued and tailored to your comfort by being cool, dark, quiet, and full of decor that helps you relax is one that subconsciously rises in importance.
Poor Eating Habits
The body is a series of complex systems working together to create one fully functioning whole. The fuel you put into one system can change the efficiency and functioning of every connected system. Both what you eat and when you eat it affects your ability to sleep. Alcohol, stimulants, and high fat, heavy meals can interfere with the timing of the sleep cycle, whereas well-balanced, regularly spaced and timed meals help the body maintain a strong sleep cycle.
Closely monitor what foods you eat near bedtime. Caffeine can affect your body for hours as can alcohol so save them for earlier in the day. Those heavy meals are best left uneaten but if you do, make sure it’s not within two or three hours of your bedtime.
Electricity’s Assault on Sleep
The human brain uses sunlight to establish and correctly time the sleep cycle. Your eyes even have special photoreceptors that absorb sunlight and send messages directly to the portion of the brain that controls the sleep hormones. Light naturally suppresses sleep hormones. As light fades, those hormones are prepared to slowly flood the body in preparation for the sleep cycle.
However, the invention of electricity changed how we relate to light. No longer do people go to bed at sundown. Electricity extended light exposure and with it the suppression of sleep hormones. Electronic devices with light-emitting screens also suppress sleep hormones. However, dimming light levels and turning off devices two to three hours before bed can maintain a healthy relationship between light and sleep.
The chronic nature of modern stress wreaks havoc on the sleep cycle. Stress comes from employment, financial obligations, family relationships, and health factors, and it can lead to poor sleep. Inadequate sleep changes how the brain regulates emotions, which further increases stress. Before long, sleep deprivation and stress create a cycle wherein they each continually feed one another.
A bedtime routine designed to relieve stress with meditation, yoga, or simply reading a book can help reduce stress before bed. If you can manage stress and get better sleep, you can further reduce stress the next day. It doesn’t matter what the routine includes as long as it’s consistently followed, and it works for you.
Modern life isn’t always friendly to sleep. A conscious effort to support your body’s sleep needs can prevent chronic sleep deprivation. A devoted sleep space, close monitoring of light exposure and technology use, and managing daily stress can all be part of solidifying a strong sleep cycle. It might take time and a few changes to your habits, but the benefits are worth the effort.