- Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
- Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite. (Yes, getting less sleep does make us hungrier!)
- Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
- Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
- Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
I couldn't agree more with these basic tenets...
1. Don't drink alcohol before bed. Drinking alcohol makes you feel drowsy, but it actually suppresses the release of sleep hormones like melatonin, which help you get to bed.
2. Close your blinds! Yes, make your room pitch black. This will help your body acclimate to its natural state of waking instead of letting the sun do it.
3. Block out noise! I don't care how you do it, whether ear plugs or cotton balls, but if you are a light sleeper I would seriously invest in something to cancel out noise. This will get you asleep more quickly and keep your body asleep.
4. Don't eat heavy foods too close to bedtime. When digesting foods our bodies shut off all other functions like the release of hormones that make us tired.
5. Shut off your cellphone, computer, and TV long before bedtime. Not only does the light trick our brain into thinking the sun is still out, but concentrating on work before bed keeps your mind active instead of settled.
6. If for some reason you can't get adequate sleep at night then try 'catnaps'. This could be a rest in the afternoon anywhere from 15-60 minutes long (not longer or else you disrupt nighttime sleep). It is extremely restorative and beneficial because it lets your brain unwind before continuing your evening. For someone like myself who spends much of the time concentrating on work in the afternoon, naps are rejuvenating and help me focus on my work much better.
If you are still having trouble sleeping, try meditation or yoga before bed. They relax mind and body and induce a calm awareness, settling any leftover thoughts from the day. In addition, I usually enjoy a small cup of chamomile tea before bed, but avoid too many liquids or else you will get awoken in the middle of the night. After a couple weeks of knocking out the alarm and making any other of the adjustments mentioned above, I promise your quality of sleep and life will be much improved. Also, get your family involved! It will make your sleep schedule more manageable and everyone will be happier in the mornings.
What other tweaks have greatly improved your sleep? What would you recommend for getting naturally adjusted to our body's sleep needs? Do you take naps?