How to Sleep Better at Night
How to sleep better at night
Do you struggle to get 8 hours of sleep every night, or do you have trouble sleeping in the first place? It doesn't matter what side of this issue you fall on - everyone can benefit from a little help with their sleeping habits. It turns out that getting enough sleep is important for more than just feeling refreshed and energised. It helps improve ones mental health and daytime energy. Sleep problems been shown to cause weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety. The benefit of creating healthy habits is to have better sleep and fall asleep faster. Here we will discuss good sleep habits and how to incorporate them in to your day so that you can have a good night's rest.
Why is sleep so important?
The main function of sleeping is to give the body time to rest and recharge for another day. This process allows us to live without feeling fatigued, but it also has some other benefits that are worth mentioning.
When we're awake our brains produce a chemical known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which builds up over the course of the day and causes drowsiness . When we go to bed at night, this ATP begins breaking down into adenosine , which then binds with receptors located throughout our bodies and tells us it's time for bed. The longer you are awake, the more tired you feel as adenosine builds up in your system.
During our time asleep, a complex series of chemical reactions is taking place in our brains. While we're sleeping, neurons continue carrying out their functions but they do so much more slowly. This actually helps to clear away neurotransmitters from synapses, which allows us not only to improve cognitive function when we wake up, but also reduces stress on these structures during sleep.
In addition to clearing out old information stored in our brain cells, studies have shown that this process improves memory by increasing synaptic plasticity - or the ability for different parts of a neuron to communicate with each other- allowing them to form new connections and memories.
REM and sleep quality
REM sleep is crucial for cognitive function and memory consolidation. It's also important for emotional well-being and stress-relief. When you don't get enough REM sleep, you can experience problems with concentration, focus, mood, and motivation. You may also find it harder to learn new information. This is because REM sleep plays a role in creating "memory traces" - the neural pathways that allow us to remember things.
Benefits of getting enough sleep
There are so many different benefits to getting enough sleep and more restful sleep, including:
Improved cognitive function due to increased synaptic plasticity.
Reduced stress on your brain cells thanks to the clearing away of neurotransmitters when we sleep. This helps us improve memory, increase focus and even boosts our immune system.
It can help you lose weight. Studies show that in people who get less than seven hours of sleep per night, their risk for obesity increases by anywhere from 55% - 69%. On the opposite end of this spectrum, people who regularly get eight or more hours seem to be at a reduced risk for weight gain. This is because lack of restful sleep has been shown to make it difficult for your body's hormones to regulate appetite.
It's good for your heart. Getting enough sleep can reduce stress on the cardiovascular system, which is crucial in preventing high blood pressure and other life threatening conditions.
How to have a good night's sleep
If you find yourself constantly tired throughout the day or having trouble falling asleep at night, there are some things you can do to help improve your sleeping habits. These include:
Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet - light exposure has been shown to interfere with our natural circadian rhythm which regulates when we feel drowsy vs awake through fluctuations in cortisol levels. (A study published in Nature Medicine showed that even brief periods of light exposure during sleep can cause the suppression of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us fall asleep). Investing in blinds that block light so that you can keep your room dark when you go to sleep will help you have a better night's sleep.
Keep your room cool
Make sure your sleeping space is cool. Studies have shown that keeping our bedroom temperature between 15 - 19 degrees celsius has been linked to improved sleep quality. Maintaining a cooler body temperature can help slow your metabolic rate down, which may be beneficial for improving sleep quality.
Avoid coffee and cigarettes
Avoid caffeine and nicotine after about four in the afternoon - or even earlier if you are particularly sensitive to these. Both stimulants are known to interfere with restful sleep patterns by stimulating dopamine production, which then triggers alertness in the brain instead of drowsiness . On average it takes up to six hours for half of any given dose of caffeine you've ingested to be eliminated from your system, though this time varies depending on factors like age or whether or not you're pregnant/breastfeeding. Nicotine is also a stimulant, which can cause similar issues with sleep.
Limit or avoid alcohol intake before bedtime. Despite the fact that it may make you feel tired initially, drinking too close to bedtime has actually been shown to disrupt deep REM sleep patterns, meaning you won't get all of the benefits associated with this phase.
Eat light at night
Make sure dinner isn't too heavy - try not to eat anything within three hours of going to bed so that your body can have enough time for digestion and absorption without bothering its ability to fall asleep. A light snack should be fine though.
Dr Andrew Huberman is a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University. He is also the director of Huberman Labs, where he and his team research vision loss due to neurological conditions like glaucoma, alzheimer's disease & traumatic brain injury (TBI).
He suggests that a way to improve sleep is to get outside and ensure that your eyes are exposed to sunlight in the morning. He states that if sunlight reaches your eyes quickly after waking, this activates a neural signal that regulates the secretion of cortisol and melatonin. What matters most are those few minutes where they must be exposed to direct morning light - as this seems key in regulating sleep patterns.
He says that by doing this, you can "reset your circadian rhythm" and thus improve your chances of getting a deeper sleep later in the day. What will happen is that a timer will be set for 16 hours after which melatonin will start to increase signalling to the body that it is time to sleep.
Key here is that it is actual direct sunlight not sunlight through a window or artificial light from a screen. Even if you believe that it is too cloudy, there are still benefits.
Avoid blue light
Dr Huberman also suggests to avoid looking at screens before bedtime because they emit blue light which is known to interfere with our natural melatonin production (melatonin helps us fall asleep).
No matter your lifestyle, it's important to understand the benefits of sleep and good sleep hygiene. You can read some more sleep hygiene tips here. Sleep not only helps you stay healthy and energised, but also has a great impact on how well you learn new information.
It can be hard to tell, but if your partner tells you that you are a snorer and stop breathing during the night, it would be a good idea to speak with your doctor. This may indicate that you are suffering from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during the night, sometimes hundreds of times. This can leave you feeling exhausted during the day, as your body is not getting the oxygen it needs. Left untreated, sleep apnea can also lead to other health problems like heart disease.
There are plenty of other ways to help improve your sleep hygiene beyond the ones listed above. You may find that you benefit from incorporating relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing or even playing soothing music at night. Establishing a good sleep schedule will go a long way to helping you better sleep at night. Everyone's lifestyle is different, so it's important to find what works best for you and stick to it. A good night's sleep can help you stay healthy and productive during the day, so let's not take it for granted.