Trouble sleeping? Simple habits to improve sleep naturally
Research indicates that two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended seven to eight hours of nightly sleep. While we know that sleep is essential for daily functioning, many of us fail to get it despite our best efforts to keep healthy. Beyond diet and exercise, simple habits like moderating caffeine, spending time in sunlight, developing a sleep routine, and preparing our environment for sleep are natural ways to improve sleep quality in the long-term.
There is no denying that a good night's rest is necessary for long-term health. It is an opportunity for your body to reset in anticipation of the day ahead.
According to research, two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended seven to eight hours of nightly sleep ! I bet most of us probably can't even recall the last time we woke up feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day without first reaching in desperation for our morning cup of coffee to get us going.
Sadly, insomnia* or chronic sleep deprivation is one of the most common complaints seen by physicians today. The National Institute of Health estimates that roughly 30 percent of the general population complains of sleep disruption, and approximately 10 percent have associated symptoms impairing daily functioning .
While we know that we need sleep to function at our best, we still struggle to get it despite our best efforts to keep healthy. Sleep disruption or poor sleep is associated with a slew of health issues like lowered immunity, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, and even depression and anxiety.
Research indicates that the most common culprits affecting sleep include stress, anxiety, caffeine, alcohol, and the overuse of digital devices.
Why sleeping pills are not the solution
While it's human nature to love a quick fix, the use of sleeping pills is not a practical solution. Most sleeping pills are technically sedative-hypnotics, a class of drugs widely used to treat anxiety and stress. Not only do they carry the risk of unpleasant side effects, but the exploitation of these substances can often lead to dependency and addiction .
So, what can we do daily to help us get our much-needed rest naturally?
Besides the apparent eating right and exercising, many other simple practices can help to support a good night's rest.
Have you ever considered that maybe your evening habits are stopping you from getting enough rest?
Most of us have heard of the term "sleep hygiene," yet very few of us know what it actually means. The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as "a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness."
Frequent sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue are the most visible signs of poor sleep hygiene . Evaluating your sleep routine and making just a few simple changes may be all you need to get a good night's sleep.
Here are a few simple practices for a good night's rest
There is no denying that life bears many stressors, whether it's career, studies, life responsibilities and/or personal relationships, most of us are, or have been burdened by the weight of stress. It is no surprise that studies show a direct relationship between stress and sleep quality . Adopting a few simple ways to reduce stress naturally throughout the day may help prevent you from carrying your worries into the evening.
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants late in the day
With an average half-life of up to seven hours, the coffee you had with dinner is probably the reason you've woken up feeling a little rusty. As tempting as it is to dive head first into that afternoon cup of coffee, studies show that caffeine taken even 6 hours before rest had important disruptive effects on sleep contributing to daytime sleepiness and impaired cognitive function , . Limiting caffeine to the first half of the day may help to improve sleep.
Spend time in the sun
This is particularly important for individuals who are confined to an office and spend little time outdoors. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm .
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
An evening routine helps the body recognize when it is time for rest. This could include taking a warm shower, meditating, reading a book, having a cup of herbal tea, or doing some light yoga.
Prepare your environment for sleep
Bedding should be comfortable and accommodating to your body. The bedroom should be cool, ideally 60 to 67 degrees, for optimal rest. The bright light from lamps, smart devices, and television screens should be turned off or adjusted when possible.
If you live in a busy city with a lot of ambient light and background noise, try experimenting with eye masks, earplugs, white noise machines, humidifiers, and other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing.
*Insomnia is a clinical condition that requires an official diagnosis. The underlying cause of insomnia is much more complicated than common sleep deprivation. In many cases, insomnia is a symptom related to underlying conditions like anxiety and depression. If you experience ongoing sleep issues, seek the advice of a licensed physician or somnologist.
- Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
- Insomnia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders/insomnia
- Murray, Michael T., and Joseph E. Pizzorno. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
- “National Sleep Foundation.” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/.
- Almojali, Abdullah I., et al. “The Prevalence and Association of Stress with Sleep Quality among Medical Students.” Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health, vol. 7, no. 3, 2017, p. 169., doi:10.1016/j.jegh.2017.04.005.
- Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 9(11), 1195–1200. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.3170
- Snel, Jan, and Monicque M. Lorist. “Effects of Caffeine on Sleep and Cognition.” Progress in Brain Research Human Sleep and Cognition Part II - Clinical and Applied Research, 2011, pp. 105–117., doi:10.1016/b978-0-444-53817-8.00006-2.