We spend almost one-third of our lives asleep. Like a balanced diet and exercise, sleep forms a critical component of overall health. Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation can cause increased irritability, difficulty in concentrating and decision making, lowered productivity. The risk of injury and accidents at home, at work and on the road also increases.
In the long run, your body’s defenses may be weakened, leading to chronic health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. A sleep debt not only endangers your mental and physical health, it also shortens life expectancy. Studies by Harvard Medical School show that sleeping less than five hours a night increases the risk of death from all causes by about 15%.
Here are some tips to ease your arrival into the Land of Nod:
Turn off electronic devices one hour before bed
Bedtime routines should include relaxing activities that migrate the transition from staying awake to falling asleep. Yet, most urbanities engage in overstimulating activities – watching television, browsing the internet, playing video games – right up to bedtime. These activities can be so addictive that people would sacrifice sleep time for them. Checking emails at night might trigger stress, while light from devices with backlit screens simulate the eyes and brain, sending the message that it is still daytime. As a result, you stay up later than you should.
Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule
Aim to sleep and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends. Sleep is closely linked to circadian rhythms, which affect body functions such as sleep-wake cycles and hormone release. The circadian cycle is disrupted when sleeping hours become irregular. Abnormal circadian rhythms can lead to sleep disorders and fatigue, as well as a weakened immune system, obesity, depression and increased risks of chronic diseases.
Try relaxation exercises and a brain dump
Exercise is a good way to relieve stress, but leave the high-intensity workouts for mornings and try relaxation exercises such as yoga at night. Spiritual practices such as medication and reading spiritual literature may bring peace and clarity of mind, which help you sleep soundly. If your brain is running on overdrive with mental reminders, write down a to-do list before going to bed. That way, you free your mind of worries and you don’t have to stress about forgetting anything important.
Make yourself comfortable
Circadian rhythms are affected by environmental cues, such as light, temperature and noise. Create the right environment that allows for better sleep. Our body takes decreasing temperatures as a signal for sleep, hence setting a comfortable bedroom temperature will help you achieved that well-deserved rest. Also keep your room adequately dark and quiet to condition your body for bedtime. Physical clutter may also be a source of stress, so make an effort to keep your room tidy and change the sheets regularly.