Do you wish you could get a great night’s sleep each and every night?
There is nothing better than the feeling of waking up refreshed, following a great night’s sleep. Unfortunately, getting high-quality sleep is often challenging. We toss and turn, worrying about tomorrow, and ruminating about yesterday. Lack of sleep can leave us frazzled and frustrated. Luckily, getting a great night’s sleep is within our control. Small shifts in our habits, routines, and environment can vastly improve the quality of our rest.
Tired, Stressed, and Unable to Function
I’ve pulled over before, after I’d lost focus and was becoming increasingly concerned about my reaction times. During my first semester at college, I caught myself dozing off during one of my final exams. Not too long ago, I was even unable to form my words into a complete sentence, following an all-night dance event. Unfortunately, the effects of my lack of sleep were not limited to those evenings. When I woke up from those restless nights, I was riding an emotional roller-coaster, extremely low on energy, and fighting the impulse to eat cake for breakfast. Through all of these experiences, and others, I’ve come to accept that getting a great night’s sleep is vital for our physical, cognitive, and emotional wellness. As a result, I’ve been using strategies to enhance the quality of my sleep, to “sleep like a pro”!
Why is Getting a Great Night’s Sleep So Important?
First and foremost, we need sleep to survive!
Anyone who has been sleep-deprived by choice, necessity, or insomnia knows how quickly the impact of extended awake time can set in.
Not having enough sleep, or enough high-quality sleep, is associated with:
- Difficulty concentrating, staying focused, finding solutions
- Indecisiveness, exhaustion
- Impulsiveness, greater willingness to take risks, weakened willpower
- Mood swings, irritability
- Higher levels of depression, anxiety
Although we still have a great deal left to learn about the various benefits of sleep, it is clear that sleep helps with:
- Cellular repair
- Regulating hormones, including insulin
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Boosting the immune system
What Interferes with Getting a Great Night’s Sleep?
There are many ways to sleep poorly, from having difficulty falling asleep and sleeping restlessly, to sleeping too much or too little. The underlying causes of low-quality sleep also vary.
Sleeplessness can be caused by:
- Sleep disorders, including sleep apnea
- Other medical conditions, such as asthma or arthritis
- Temporary physical conditions, such as indigestion, injuries, or seasonal allergies
- Stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine, and some prescription medications
- Stress, anxiety
- Excitement, anticipation
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits, including poor diet and lack of exercise
- Shifting schedules, resulting from travel, daylight savings, or changing shifts at work
How Do I Set Myself Up to Consistently Have a Great Night’s Sleep?
1. Stay Active During the Day
People who exercise regularly sleep better. More strenuous exercise should be done at least a few hours before you plan to settle in for the night, whereas stretching, or gentle yoga could be part of your evening process of unwinding.
2. Spend Time Outdoors
Taking in some fresh air during the day can lead to a great night’s sleep. Additionally, the health benefits of being outside rival those of getting a great night’s sleep. Many people take up hobbies that involve connecting to nature, such as gardening, kayaking, or hiking. Others combine being outside with fitness, through jogging or biking. Taking a walk after meals is one way to increase activity while also aiding digestion.
3. Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
One way to get a great night’s sleep is to go to bed, and wake up, at (or around) the same time every day. Many people drastically change their sleep habits from day to day, or between weekdays and weekends. Our bodies would prefer a predictable routine. When you are creating a sleep schedule, prioritize your natural cycle over the times you feel you are “supposed to” turn in and get moving. Attempting to fight or modify our natural rhythms is a recipe for inadequate slumber. It’s unlikely we’ll have a great night’s sleep unless we follow our natural rhythms. Becoming more in sync with our bodies, on the other hand, leads to better sleep, more sleep, and higher quality sleep.
5. Limit the Use of Your Bed
Humans are fantastic at drawing connections. Make sure your bedroom and bed are being behaviorally linked to sleep (and sex). Find a nighttime routine that works for you. If you can’t sleep, and decide to read, get out of bed and relocate.
When you wake up in the morning, get out of the bed right away. When you do, take a minute to make it. This ritual signifies your transition from sleeping to waking life, while simultaneously serving as your day’s first accomplishment.
6. Create an Oasis
Take a minute to assess your bedroom. Is it the ideal environment to sleep in? When you look around, do you think, “I’m going to have a great night’s sleep, perhaps even the best sleep of my life tonight! If not, it could be time for a redesign.
Consider these questions:
- How noisy is it? Is there a way to make it quieter, to reduce or eliminate any noise pollution?
- How dark is it? Do you have a way to block more of the light coming in?
- What is the temperature? People tend to sleep better in cooler temperatures, within their comfort zone. Your bedroom, ideally, should remain cool, but not feel cold.
- Do you have a television in your bedroom? Refer back to #4, only this time, broaden it to, “Limit the Use of Your Bedroom.”
- Is your bedroom clean and free of clutter?
- What color are the walls in the room? Is the color relaxing?
- What does your bedroom smell like? Could adding a soothing scent help get a great night’s sleep?
- Is your mattress comfortable? How firm is your pillow?
Make changes gradually, introducing just one new habit at a time. Eventually, you’ll create more personalized “pro-sleep” techniques. Consider tracking your sleep. If you wear a smartwatch or Fitbit, it may already be collecting data about your cycles and stages. I’ve found, by comparing my data to how I feel when I wake up, that the amount of time I spend in deep sleep and REM sleep stages impacts the quality of my sleep far more than does duration.
If you don’t have a device that tracks your sleep, starting a journal, or diary, to record your progress is a fantastic alternative method.
Listen to your body!
Although there are best practices, you’re the true expert on what you need. When it comes to sleep, go for quality over quantity! Measure your success by how you feel when you wake up. A great night’s sleep leaves us feeling alive and alert, regardless of the hours put in.