How To Promote Healthy Sleep Naturally
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you might be tempted to reach for an over-the-counter sleep aid, ask your doctor for sleeping pills or try something readily available like a nightcap. None of those are a good idea, however. While anyone might occasionally have a bad night, regularly going short on sleep is very unhealthy over the long term. People who develop chronic insomnia can even develop sleep anxiety, which makes the problem worse.
Why Does Sleep Matter?
Sleep is necessary for proper function of the brain and many body processes. While catching ZZZs, all sorts of biological and chemical processes are going on in your body. Many of these are hormonal processes; hormones are rather like the conductors and engineers of our biology and affect every single organ system and function.
Disrupted hormonal processes can cause all sorts of health problems from high or low thyroid to diabetes. Even more important, sleep is critically important for brain health, and the brain is the master control system of the body.
When You’re Sleep Deprived
Chronic sleep deprivation is no joke. Nor can it be corrected with a little extra caffeine. People who are sleep deprived are at much higher risk of accidents, whether when driving or operating machinery. When you’re sleep deprived, it’s very difficult to think clearly, and sleep deprivation also affects your impulse control and judgment. Sleep deprivation also has long-term health effects – it can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
How Much Sleep Do I Really Need?
Although everyone is different, the National Sleep Foundation has identified some sleep duration ranges for children, adolescents, adults and seniors. Infants sleep the most and need 14 to 17 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. As they grow, children’s sleep needs decrease to about 10 to 13 hours for preschoolers and nine to 11 hours by age six to 13.
Teens need eight to 11, and because their circadian rhythm is different, sleep best between 11 PM and 10 AM. Adults need seven to nine hours a night and the older adult needs seven to eight. For optimum health, teens should not sleep more than 11 hours a night and adults should not sleep more than 10 hours a night. If you always wake up before the alarm goes and feel refreshed and rested, you’re probably getting enough sleep.
How Can I Improve My Sleep?
In a few words – diet, exercise and proper sleep hygiene. Diet matters both in terms of what you eat and what you should avoid. Protein is necessary to supply amino acids, which the body uses to create neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers tell the brain and nervous system what to do and when to do it. You should eat about three ounces of protein at each meal.
Your diet should also supply the vitamins and minerals you need for optimum health (think lots of fresh fruits and veggies, plus some whole grains and healthy fats). Exercise helps relieve your stress and maintain or lose weight. Being overweight increases the risk of the sleep disorder called sleep apnea, which can disrupt your sleep. Limit caffeine and alcohol – both disrupt sleep and caffeine can increase sleep anxiety. Relaxation exercises can also help you fall asleep.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Common sense should tell you that if you’re having trouble sleeping, it doesn’t make sense to do something that might make the problem worse. That’s where good sleep hygiene comes in. Light, noise, electronic activities and an uncomfortable bed or pillow can make sleep problems worse.
Sleep in a cool, dark room – turn down the thermostat and use light-blocking shades. Make sure your bed has a comfortable mattress that supports your back properly. There are pillows designed to promote healthy sleeping positions; explore your options.
A small fan can provide “white noise” to block out sounds that might otherwise keep you awake. Televisions, computers, smart phones and video games are overly stimulating to the brain and can prevent you from getting a good night’s rest. Turn them off at least an hour before bedtime – read a book or take a soothing bath.
Since everyone has their own internal clock, it might take a little detective work to see how much sleep you need. First, try all the tips above. If you’re still not at the top of your game, try going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night until you always wake up before the alarm goes off.
If you feel refreshed and alert and you have plenty of energy throughout the day, you’ve found your magic number. Should you find yourself getting sleepy mid-afternoon, you may need a bit more sleep, so adjust the schedule as necessary. Night-night!
Do you manage to sleep as much as you need? Please share in the comments below.
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