Every human being requires sleep in order to grow, mature, and even survive. Sleep affects how we look, feel and perform on a daily basis. When we sleep well, we wake up feeling refreshed and alert. When we suffer from lack of sleep, it adversely affects our concentration, alertness, and our ability to process and retain new information.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, at least 40 million Americans each year suffer from chronic sleep disorders and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleep problems (difficulties). 35% of American adults and 69% of high school students lack adequate sleep. It’s shocking to think that a simple activity that is so common and so essential to our health and well-being, can often be so elusive, so frustrating, and so difficult to attain.
Physical and Psychological Repair
The average adult sleeps approximately 8 hours per night, although studies have shown individual differences that indicate some people require more than 10 hours of sleep per night, while others can function very well on less than 4 or 5 hours. Regardless of the number of hours needed, sleep is essential to our health and wellness. Researchers have found that while we sleep, our brains can repair cellular damage, remove toxins that accumulate during the day, boost energy supplies, and lay down memories. Sleep is an opportunity for our bodies to repair.
Some forms of sleep are associated with physical repair such as building torn muscles and cleansing of organs, and these forms of sleep are associated with slow, Delta brainwave patterns. Other forms of sleep are associated with psychological repair such as working through anxiety and laying down memories and these forms of sleep are associated with active dream states.
“ Sleep specialists have found that individuals who do not get enough sleep are more susceptible to depression, irritability, poor concentration, and memory deficits.”
– Dr. Susie Spicer
Adults typically cycle through all forms of sleep every 90 minutes, repairing both physical and psychological systems. Each 90 minute cycle serves a specific function. When an individual initially falls asleep, the majority of the first 90 minutes are spent in physical repair. As the night progresses, sleep patterns shift so that toward the morning, more time is spent in psychological repair. When emotional distress and anxiety interfere with the quality of sleep, the natural ability of your mind and body to repair itself is compromised. Sleep specialists have found that individuals who do not get enough sleep are more susceptible to depression, irritability, poor concentration, and memory deficits. These experts also tell us that getting a good night’s sleep strengthens your immune system, boosts your mood, and promotes a healthy heart.
Adequate sleep can help prevent you from gaining weight, as sleep helps to regulate your metabolism, and boost fat loss. A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the resting energy expenditure (which is calories burned at rest) of individuals with adequate sleeping patterns was 5% higher than their tired counterparts. Individuals with adequate sleep also burned 20 percent more calories after a meal versus sleep-deprived people.
Lastly, getting consistent, high quality sleep keeps testosterone levels appropriately elevated, increasing your chances for a rewarding sex life. It’s pretty clear that if you can improve your sleep, you can improve your life.
Here are twelve simple techniques to improve sleep:
Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule
Studies have shown that the most effective way to improve quality of sleep is to go to bed at the same time each night and awaken at the same time each morning. This regulates your body’s internal clock to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid lack of energy on Monday morning. If possible, avoid naps. Naps decrease the ‘sleep debt’ that is necessary for easy onset of sleep. Each of us needs a certain amount of sleep during a 24 hour period. When we take naps, it decreases the amount of sleep that we need the following night, which may cause difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. This may eventually lead to insomnia. Even if you had a night of fragmented sleep and are tired, it is important that you try to keep your daily schedule as planned, and not avoid activities because you are sleepy, as this can contribute to the development of insomnia.
Do not lay awake in bed for more than 20 minutes. Trying purposefully to fall asleep has been found to induce frustration and further prevent falling asleep. When you find yourself unable to sleep, or discover your mind racing, get out of bed, go into another room and do something relaxing until you are tired. Quietly sit in a chair in the dark, and engage in deep breathing exercises, or read a book. Do so until you are sleepy, then return to bed. Do this several times a night, if you have to, and maintain your regular waking time.
Sleep and Sex…Your Bed is For These Only
Resist the temptation to watch TV, read, or work on a laptop in bed. When you do these things, you associate the bed with wakefulness, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep. The bed is reserved for two things – sleep and sex.
Create a Restful Environment
Transform your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. Your bedroom is your sanctuary from the demands of daily life. When you walk into your bedroom, or even think about your bedroom, you should feel peaceful and relaxed. A quiet, dark, and cool environment with will promote deeper sleep. Keep your bedroom between 60 and 75 degrees, and well ventilated with enough comfortable blankets. The onset of sleep is associated with a slight drop in core body temperature, so sleeping in a room that is too warm will inhibit the onset of sleep. Remove work materials from your bedroom. If a pet regularly awakens you during the night, you may want to consider having him or her sleep in another room. Turn your alarm clock out of your line of view and release yourself from the need to know what time it is, as this can increase stress.
Use Delta Brainwave Music
Deep sleep is associated with Delta brainwave activity. Listening to binaural beat music with a Delta brainwave pattern will naturally slow your brainwave activity, and allow you to easily and effortlessly drift off to sleep and remain asleep. Delta brainwave music is associated with deep, restorative sleep, optimal physical healing, and a slowing of the aging process. Delta brainwave music will allow you to sleep more deeply than you thought possible, and waken feeling completely refreshed. Regular use of Delta brainwave music at bedtime will train your brain to easily enter a deep, restful sleep.
Regulate Your Circadian Rhythm
Allow sunshine from the outdoors to keep your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Humans, and most living creatures, have an internal clock that mirrors nature’s cycles of day and night, and this is called our circadian rhythm. The more stable and consistent your circadian rhythm is, the better your sleep. Humans evolved spending most of our time outdoors, exposed to light beginning with the rising sun. In our modern world, we spend more time indoors, although sunlight continues to help regulate our circadian rhythm. Allow light to enter your room as soon as you awaken and find time during the day to get outdoors. This simple practice will help regulate your circadian rhythm so that you more easily fall asleep at night and remain asleep.
Avoid caffeine, energy drinks, tea, chocolate and other stimulants that interfere with sleep. Try not to consume these items for at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. These substances activate the neurobiological systems that maintain wakefulness. Although alcohol may help bring about the onset of sleep, after a few hours, alcohol acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. Generally, the more an individual is intoxicated, the more sleep will be disrupted. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it also suppresses mental activity that you need if the dream state is going to produce psychological repair. This is why people frequently do not awaken feeling refreshed following the use of alcohol.
Ditch the Electronics
Avoid use of electronics before bedtime. Research has shown that light from electronics such as computers, video games, or cell phones, has the potential to disrupt sleep because it sends altering signals to your brain. Yet 95% of individuals use these devices at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed. Our natural circadian rhythm is found to be especially sensitive to light with short wavelengths—in particular, blue light in the 460-nanometer range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This light, which is given off by electronics such as computers and cell phones, has been shown to delay the release of melatonin, a natural hormone involved in the synchronization of your circadian rhythm. If you have difficulty sleeping, consider turning off the electronics for at least one hour before bedtime.
Relax With Deep Breathing Techniques
Deep breathing techniques can help you fall asleep. Deep breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body, quiet your mind, and pull your awareness away from your problems and worries. Controlled breathing not only keeps your mind and body functioning at its best, it can also lower blood pressure, help you de-stress, and assist you in falling asleep. Lie down in a comfortable position on your back with your legs straight. Allow your toes to comfortably point outward and your arms to rest at your sides. Place your palms upward and close your eyes. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths and relax. Focus on the gentle rise and fall of your abdomen. Inhale through your nose to a count of four. Exhale through your mouth to a count of six. If you find your mind wandering, simply acknowledge this distraction, and gently guide your attention back to your breath. Practice this technique for ten minutes a day and you will find that you can more easily fall asleep and stay asleep.
Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Establish a soothing bedtime routine. Engaging in a period of relaxing activities one hour before bed will ease the transition from wakefulness to sleep. You may develop your own rituals which remind your body that it is time to sleep. Read a book, write in a journal, or practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises. Taking a warm shower or bath is an excellent practice as the subtle rise and subsequent fall in body temperature promotes the onset of sleep. Research has shown that the onset of sleep is associated with a slight drop in core body temperature. Dim the lights in your room or light a soft candle. Allow yourself to bask in quiet contemplation or listen to Delta brainwave music. Avoid stressful, stimulating ideas such as those associated with work and avoid discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities are associated with the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which is found to increase alertness. Instead, write your problems down, put them aside, and tell yourself that for the next eight hours, you release yourself from the need to address these issues. You are most productive and most efficient if you remove stressful thoughts from your mind, sleep deeply, and address them with a fresh outlook in the morning.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise at least 20 minutes per day and early in the day. Exercise will help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Regular exercise can release stress, produce feel-good endorphins, and promote a sense of well-being. The bilateral stimulation of many forms of aerobic exercise such as running, walking, and swimming can activate neurotransmitters in the brain associated with problem-solving, insight, and inspiration. This may lead to reduced episodes of tossing in bed at night, ruminating over your life’s problems. Exercising in the evening, however, may lead to increased alertness and difficulty staying asleep. This is because rigorous exercise circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficulty initiating sleep. For best results, complete any heavy exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
Don’t Eat Before Bedtime
A healthy, balanced diet of protein, fruits, and vegetables will help you sleep well, although timing is important. A heavy meal before bedtime may interrupt sleep, although some people find an empty stomach at bedtime to be distracting. It is important to discover what works best for you. It may be helpful to have a light snack. Sleep specialists have found that having a satisfied stomach will help you fall asleep and stay asleep and it will also maintain stable levels of blood sugar that are necessary for weight loss. The important factor is to learn what is right for your particular sleep patterns and adjust your nighttime eating to maintain consistency with your body’s particular needs.
Consistency in applying these 12 simple techniques will best increase your chances of attaining deep, restorative sleep. That being said, not all sleep issues are easily treated and may signify the presence of a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, or other clinical sleep problems. If your sleep issues persist, you may wish to consult your physician or sleep specialist, and participate in treatment with a licensed psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. Helpful resources to obtain the best sleep possible may be found online at the website for the National Sleep Foundation at www.sleepfoundation.org.