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The amount and quality of sleep that we get directly influences the quality of our lives. This is why it is important to know what sleep is, why we sleep and how to do it better.
While we spend an average of 30% of our lives sleeping, data shows that up to 35% of adults aren’t getting enough sleep and this is directly affecting their well being.
Why is sleep so important and how much should you be getting?
The importance of sleep
During the time we spend sleeping, our memories go through a consolidation phase which means that sleep directly influences our memory. But this doesn’t stop only at the memories that we can relate to. Research suggests that our immune system’s memory depends on sleep too.
All the cells in our body respond to sleep. Some cells respond by relaxing, others by working harder. Some of the processes that go on while we sleep are:
All the animals, with a few interesting exceptions, need sleep. Sleep evolved and changed with the human kind, and it helped us become what we are today. It is important to know that without proper sleep entire functions will be compromised.
Our ancestors, the primates, need a few more hours of sleep than we do, but the difference between us and them is that we have a higher quality sleep, with up to 25% R.E.M (rapid eye movement) – the part of sleep in which we dream.
It is likely that the way our sleep evolved influenced the way we evolved, and it is clear that we need to maintain our sleep quality if we are to be at our best.
Sleep deprivation 101
Depending on the life stage we are in, we have different sleep requirements. The average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to function properly during the day.
Not getting enough sleep can have a series of effects, some obvious and some easy to miss. The ones that are more common, and to which we can all relate are:
Inability to concentrate;
Slow reaction time.
However, those who are in the habit of not getting enough sleep are exposed to risks that influence them in the long term. Risks like:
Now that we covered most of the things that can go wrong from lack of sleep, let’s see what we can do to avoid them.
Some people find it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep through the night. There are many possible causes behind this issue, but most of them are avoidable, and we will show you how to improve your sleep and to avoid serious health concerns.
12 tips for better sleep
Don’t doze off in the afternoon
A good night’s sleep depends on the circadian rhythm, your own inner biological clock that tells you when you should go to sleep.
The circadian rhythm depends on the light-darkness cycle, and if you break it by sleeping while there is still light outside, you may not be able to fall asleep at night.
Reduce your caffeine intake
One or two cups of coffee/day are OK, but if you are trying to get better sleep, you should limit your intake and stop drinking caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m.
Reduce your sugar intake
Research shows that a diet rich in sugars, carbohydrates, and fats disturbs sleep and directly affects its quality. You can read more about this here.
Make sure to get out
The circadian rhythm that we talked about is affected by daylight. In order for it to function properly, you should get as much sunlight as possible during the day. Exposure to sunlight is most beneficial early in the morning to signal the body that is time to be awake and stimulate the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical that later in the evening is converted into melatonin and you will get a good night rest.
Eat some tropical fruits
Scientists tested the melatonin levels of subjects who ate melatonin-rich foods like bananas, pineapples and oranges. The results showed that some of the melatonin was absorbed by the subjects. This means that eating melatonin-rich foods may have the potential to promote better sleep.
Exercise increases sleep quality and quantity. Feel good, anti-stress chemicals are released during exercise. Furthermore, exercise raises body temperature initially, then it drops, triggering sleepiness later at night.
The best way to exercise is during the day, outdoors, to get the benefits of sunlight, too.
Have a light dinner
Your lunch should be the biggest meal of the day. Eating heavy, large meals in the evening interferes with your sleep. It takes about 6 hours to digest proteins from a chicken or beef dish. Have a light diner, based on vegetables. If you prefer animal-based proteins, choose a cup of warm milk or a scoop of protein powder.
Reduce alcohol and nicotine consumption
Alcohol usually gives us the illusion of relaxation as do cigarettes, because they make us feel drowsy or calm.
However, they stimulate the nervous system and interfere with sleep.
Limit exposure to blue light
One of the reasons for which people tend to sleep less in today’s society is exposure to blue lights.
The bedroom is a space that should be designed for sleep. Make sure that there is no light coming in from outside, and that there are no screens to tempt you.
Another important factor is the temperature in the room. A slightly colder room temperature will promote sleep. Research suggests that keeping your room cooler doesn’t just help you fall asleep. It helps you stay asleep.
During the night we wake up when we enter R.E.M. sleep, and if the room is cooler, we tend to fall right back to sleep, but if it’s a bit warm, it will take us longer to do so.
Of course, by the next morning all is forgotten so we won’t remember to adjust the temperature.
Meditation is a simple action that can take as little as 10 minutes every day, and that can teach us to relax.
One of the most common reasons for which people fail to fall asleep is anxiety and over thinking about their daily problems. Ironically, thinking about problems creates more problems.
Mindfulness meditation was shown to improve sleep, reduce stress, and improve the overall quality of life.
Take a hot bath
A study showed that taking a warm bath 90 minutes before going to bed can help people fall asleep.
The principle is similar to the one for which exercising works. The bath warms the body, and a while later, the body temperature lowers. Having a lower than normal body temperature promotes sleep.
We often tend to ignore the most important things in life, the ones that make our lives better. Sleep is one of those things, and it is vital for you to rest properly in order to remain active and healthy for as long as possible.