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How to sleep better

Sleep, in the right quantity and quality, is a major determining factor for our physical and mental health. Without the right amount of quality sleep, your capacity to think clearly and function effectively diminishes. Good sleep recharges your batteries, so knowing how to sleep better is vital to your survival.

Ideally, we'd all get the right amount of sleep to fulfill our needs. We'd fall asleep quickly, sleep through the night uninterrupted, and wake up refreshed and on time. If we have to get up to use the bathroom, we fall right back to sleep again.

If that describes your sleep patterns, congratulations! You're part of a fortunate minority. Environmental and social stressors affect us all, and can act to disrupt many people's sleep patterns. This can play out as insomnia (the inability to fall asleep when we want to) and sleep deprivation.

Exactly how much sleep you need is a subject of debate. People are different: some need more sleep than others. My opinion is that we should let our bodies tell us how much we need, pay attention to those needs, and follow them. Listening to our bodies is a mindful practice that extends into other areas of our lives, not just when working out how to sleep better.

how to sleep better

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The dangers of sleep deprivation

In the short term, the effects of sleep deprivation are familiar to many of us: feeling groggy and cranky, with an inability to concentrate fully on the task at hand.

Longer term, sleep deprivation poses a multi-faceted and serious health threat. Specifically:

  • Memory issues: Because sleep is the time when our body organizes information, cutting this time short can make us more forgetful and is a risk factor in developing dementia.
  • Emotional changes: Besides feeling grumpy due to fatigue, sleep deprivation can increase our risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Immune function: Fighting germs is a never ending battle, requiring our body's full complement of resources. Insufficient sleep weakens our defenses, thus making us more susceptible to colds and other viral illnesses.

Want more? There's also good evidence that chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of diabetes, low libido, accidents, high blood pressure, heart disease, and weight gain.

All from not getting enough shut eye!

How to sleep better: Napping

Research that studies human productivity in the workplace has shown that a 25 minute midday nap significantly improves worker productivity. The practice is gaining in acceptance in the Western world but still faces stubborn social stigmas against it. In my experience, rebranding your midday snooze as a "meditation break" is more palatable terminology.

Reluctant employers might be more easily persuaded to provide quiet spaces if they took to heart the competitive advantages that arise from it !

Until the day arrives when employers get wise to the benefits of the midday nap, we can learn to take short naps! Even a brief, five-minute catnap can revitalize you. I learned this skill when I was in college and I've used it to keep myself going when other options aren't available.

sleeping better: the joys of the catnap!

How to sleep better: Darkness in the bedroom

We sleep best in darkness. According to a study in Nature, "the invasion of artificial light into previously unlit areas is threatening the soundness of human health and sleep." Even low levels of light in our bedrooms disrupts our circadian rhythms and the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleeping / waking cycles.

Light pollution is a global phenomenon, and not just in urban areas. It takes effort to banish light and welcome darkness into the bedroom. If your sleep space is not dark, you may consider investing in blackout curtains over your windows. A cheaper option is to wear an eye mask at night.

How to sleep better: Avoiding blue light

It's helpful to avoid blue light in the hour before retiring. Blue light disrupts the production of melatonin.  Computer monitors, TVs, and phone screens contain a lot of blue light. If you must look at a screen, activate the blue filter (on phones) or wear orange-tinted computer glasses (available online or at office supply stores).

how to sleep better: avoiding blue light

How to sleep better: Avoiding alcohol!

Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Although a "nightcap" before retiring can help you fall asleep (because alcohol is a depressant), research has shown that processing that alcohol in the body is disruptive to normal sleep patterns. In addition, alcohol is a diuretic so you're more likely to have to get up to use the bathroom when you could be snoozing.

If you drink alcohol in the evenings, remember that each drink you consume requires an hour for your body to metabolize. Time your evening nightcaps accordingly!

How to sleep better: Supplements

Many folks have used these supplements before bedtime to help them sleep better. Try them out on yourself slowly to rule out any adverse reactions.

  • Melatonin supplements: regulates sleep patterns and the circadian rhythms they depend on. Available (in the United States) as an affordable over-the-counter supplement in drug stores. Follow label directions carefully, and don't use it every night lest you disrupt your body's own production of this essential hormone.

  • Valerian supplements: this affordable herbal is also available over-the-counter. It can help you relax and fall asleep. It has a smell some find unpleasant, but that's a minor quibble! Some people use it during the day to calm nerves and reduce the jitters.


good sleep is essential to good health

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