I’m one of those rare people blessed by the sleeping gods with the ability to fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.
I used to think that this is the norm, but growing up, I discovered I’m just a lucky case in a sea of tired people that suffer from sleep deprivation. If you’re having problems sleeping, or if you’re wondering how to fix your sleeping schedule, you’ve come to the right place!
An estimated 164 million Americans, roughly 68% of the U.S. population, have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.
If you struggle with slumber, you should pay attention to Sleep Awareness Week, an annual event taking place March 14-20. This event is created by the National Sleep Foundation and seeks to promote better sleep as a way to increase overall health and well-being.
We’ve discussed before the importance of a good night’s sleep and how it can affect your mood and general health. Now it’s time to see the bad habits that might affect your sleep quality and what you can do to achieve that restful beauty sleep.
Midnight snacks are a big no-no
Eating too close to bedtime may affect your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your slumber. After a meal, your body starts the digestive process, and lying down can cause stomach acid to enter your esophagus, causing heartburn and indigestion. Also, during the night, your metabolism slows down, making digestion more difficult. No wonder you can’t fall asleep!
If hunger strikes and you must eat something, try to choose light foods that promote sleep, like bananas, almonds, chamomile tea, or some cereal with milk.
The night owl vs. the early riser
Each person has their own sleeping pattern. Some prefer to go to bed early and wake up bright and early, while others prefer to stay up late and sleep in the next day.
However, our bodies have a natural circadian rhythm that is linked to the rising and setting of the sun, not to our preferred sleep habits.
Melatonin, the sleep hormone, influences our body to stay awake and alert or become sleepy. During the day, melatonin production slows down, allowing you to focus on the tasks at hand. At night your body produces more melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy and tired.
Sleeping at odd hours is a bad idea as it goes against your natural circadian rhythm, leading to restless sleep or even insomnia.
Too much screen time
Another bad habit people have is indulging in too much television, playing video games, or mindlessly scrolling through social media before sleep. All your gadgets and electronic devices emit a blue light that mimics the effects of sunlight, inhibiting melatonin production. The longer you spend time on your phone or tablet at night, the harder it becomes for you to fall asleep.
The type of content we consume at night can also influence our sleep patterns. If it’s too engaging, you’ll want to stay awake for longer. If it’s stressful, it can induce anxiety, releasing a flood of cortisol in the body. High levels of cortisol make relaxing impossible.
Skip that afternoon latte
Who doesn’t enjoy a late cup of coffee with friends or an afternoon latte that will get you through the last hours of work? While it’s an instant pick-me-up and gives you the energy to finish your tasks, the flipside is that you’ll have trouble sleeping at night because of it.
Caffeine is a stimulant that increases brain activity, lowering your chances of going to bed early. Research shows that coffee can affect our body up to 8 hours after consumption, so make sure to avoid coffee after 2 pm.
These four general tips can already bring you well on your way to a more balanced sleep. What about doing something more?
Luckily, we’re here to try and do just that; help you get a better night’s sleep!
There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding sleep schedules, let’s try and find out a bit more about the dos and don’ts of it all.
Can pulling an all-nighter fix your sleep schedule?
While there is not a whole lot of research done on this subject, we know enough about it to say that it’s not entirely recommended.
First of all, you’ll be feeling miserable throughout the time you’re awake. Second of all, it’s not guaranteed that it will work.
Chances are, you’ll be doing more damage than good. You could be throwing your sleep schedule off-balance, resulting in having an even harder time than before when trying to fall asleep.
If your sleep schedule is so out of synch that you’re thinking about pulling an all-nighter, it might be wise to try different approaches first.
Is it unhealthy to stay up for 24 hours?
It’s unpleasant. It won’t have a significant impact on your overall health, but staying up for 24 hours will affect you. Studies have shown that being awake for 24 hours is similar to having a 0.10 percent blood alcohol concentration! That’s above the legal driving limit in most states!
What else can you expect if you’re staying up for 24 hours?
Drowsiness, irritability, impaired decision-making, impaired judgment, altered perception, memory problems, vision and hearing impairments, decreased hand-eye coordination, increased muscle tension, and tremors.
Luckily, these symptoms go away after you get some much-needed rest.
Are 3 hours of sleep enough?
If you’ve been researching ways to sleep better, chances are you’ve stumbled upon quite a few “miracle fixes”. A few of them might even claim that three hours of sleep a night might be all you need to get everything back on track.
Let’s get things straight. If you’re living a hectic life and happen to only sleep for a few hours every now and then, you’re probably not facing serious health issues.
On the other hand, if you’re making a conscious decision to only sleep three hours a night, things might get tricky.
Chances are you’ll be losing your mental clarity, you’ll also be experiencing reduced coordination, and in rare cases, even hallucinations.
The dangers of sleeping only for 3 hours.
A major side-effect can be the decrease in cognitive function and proper decision-making.
That can lead to accidents, irritability, depression, or memory loss.
Being sleep-deprived is not the way to improve the quality of your sleep, that’s for sure!
You could also have serious physical ramifications as well. Weight gain, a decreased sex drive, and changes to your skin (dark circles under your eyes for starters) have been observed in people who live sleep-deprived lives.
Heart illness and diabetes are also linked to bodies that receive inadequate rest.
What’s the best sleeping schedule?
It’s easy to talk about what people get wrong with their sleep schedules. Let’s be positive; what’s the best sleeping schedule?
There’s a lot that goes on in our bodies when we get to sleep, and there’s even more going on when we’re awake. We live hectic lives that influence our sleep schedules greatly.
Going to sleep early and waking up early, well-rested, and on our way to productive days would be ideal, but it’s hardly the case every day.
Ideally, our bodies are programmed to sleep when it’s dark and wake up when the sun starts to show up. That’s why we tend to get sleepier once the sun starts to set. It’s also why our lives get disturbed during the shorter days of winter.
“However, our bodies have a natural circadian rhythm that is linked to the rising and setting of the sun, not to our preferred sleep habits.”
We’ve been over this before, but it’s important, bear with me;
Circadian rhythm. What we mean by that is how your brain regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Think of it as a clock, nothing more, nothing less.
Your circadian rhythm dictates your natural bedtime and morning wake-up schedule. Once your body gets used to going to bed and waking up at certain hours, your brain adapts to the schedule.
Working off shifts or going to bed at different hours throughout the week can offset your circadian rhythm. Simply put, your body gets confused about when it should be sleeping or not, resulting in your sleep schedule getting messed up.
In order to find out when you should be sleeping and waking up, you have to consider a few things.
First of all, you’re more likely to be at your sleepiest between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Second of all, the quality of your sleep depends far more than we’d like to admit on what you do during the day (or night).
Things like exercise and a healthy diet can have a huge impact on the overall quality of your sleep, and your need for sleep as well.
Just because you’re working the graveyard shift two times a week, it doesn’t mean that your chances of having a regulated sleep schedule are off the table.
It’s harder, but it’s not impossible.
Maybe you’re asking yourself “What is a normal sleeping pattern?” What does it look like? How much sleep should I be getting?
Seven hours is the minimum recommended time you should be sleeping each night. Your ideal bedtime should be seven hours before you have to get up for work. For example, if you have to get up at 6 a.m., you should try to get in bed and be on your way to dreamland before 11 p.m.
Another key thing to master is sticking to a sleep schedule every single night. Sleeping in or staying up late during the weekends won’t make your life easier once the week starts over!
If you’re regularly drowsy during the day, you might be suffering from sleep deprivation.
Falling asleep the second you hit your pillow is also a sign of sleep deprivation. Nodding off during a conversation? Get some good sleep!
It’s not just that these things are annoying, or that they’re changing the quality of your life, they’re dangerous. Falling asleep being the wheel? Let’s not.
If you’re trying to make changes to your sleep habits, and you’re still not sleeping or getting quality sleep, consulting a specialist is the next step towards getting things under control.
The amount and quality of sleep we get vary greatly during our lifetimes. It’s also a problem that tends to get worse when left untreated. The longer you wait before addressing your sleep problems, the harder it will be to treat them and regain control over one of the most important aspects of your life.