Sleeping well is the most underrated and overlooked thing you can do for your health and fitness. Not only does a good night’s sleep help you feel better and get through your day more easily, it also keeps your body systems ticking along in tip top shape.
According to Sleep: A Health Imperative, published in the journal Sleep, 37.1% of American adults experiencing inadequate sleep; the number of Australian adults is similar at 39.8%, according to a report commissioned by the Australian Sleep Health Foundation.
That’s a lot of people not sleeping well, or enough. And as long as daily functioning isn’t impacted, why not spend more time on work and play? Well, because eventually sleep deficits can catch up to you. And it’s not just feeling it (things like simple tiredness, poor daytime function, and microsleeps) — it’s also your health.
Most research shows that 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night is what will keep you healthy. Less than 6 hours per night will drive a cumulative sleep deficit that stresses cells and changes how the brain (and therefore the body) functions. In turn, this changes the way your metabolism, immune system, and nervous system work. This sets the stage for:
- Increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease, and possibly stroke.
- Increased risk of obesity, possibly due to changes in hormonal control of hunger signals, as well as decreased glucose tolerance and development of type 2 diabetes.
- Increased risk of numerous types of cancer, including break, colon or colorectal, and prostate, which may be linked to an overall increase in cell damage throughout the body.
Ok, so it’s not good for you – you know that. Does that mean it’s time to make an appointment to see the doc for some sleeping tablets?
Nah. For most of us, good sleep is a matter of making some easy lifestyle adjustments. Start with the easiest and work your way through the list as you can or need to. Everything you do will help!
- Make your room dark. Blackout blinds will limit light from outside. Inside the room, minimize any lights (from electronics or other devices), and a trusty eye mask will help if your partner insists on reading in bed.
- Keep your room cool. Research suggests that optimal room temperatures range from 16-18°C, or 60-67°F, since that’s neither too cold (keeping you from falling asleep), nor too warm (causing restless sleep).
- Make your bed comfortable. Find a mattress that gives you enough space, support, and comfort. The best mattress and pillow will allow you to stay in good posture while you sleep: with your head, neck, and spine in alignment. A mattress that is too soft will cause you to slouch, and a mattress that is too firm will put pressure on contact points like hips or shoulders. Pillows should allow your head and neck to stay in a straight(ish) line with your spine in your preferred sleeping position.
- Make your room quiet. Loud or unusual noises will disturb your sleep, which you probably already know! If you live somewhere where this is common, using a white noise player (via specialized machines or simply any number of Youtube tracks) can help mask outside noises and lull you to sleep.
- Develop a bedtime routine. When you create a routine around the tasks of going to bed, it helps your brain recognize that it’s time to wind down. This makes it easier to fall asleep, especially if your routine is a relaxing one.
- Make your room a haven. Bedrooms should not be multi-purpose rooms; sleep scientists recommend only using your bedroom for sleep and sex. Choose paint, sheets, curtains or blinds, and other decor that you love, and going to sleep will be the best part of your day!