Studies show that lack of sleep is more than just annoying. It can affect your health, career and relationships. The good news is there are several tools and tips you can use to help you get a better night's rest. If you continue to have problems sleeping well, here's some information to help you get started in seeking medical help.
The science of sleep
The first step is understanding how your brain knows when to sleep and when to wake up. Then, you can make changes in your daily life to increase your chance of sleeping well.
Your body's circadian rhythm (a cycle of your body) controls your sleep. Light exposure directly influences your circadian rhythm. That's why you usually feel sleepier when it's dark and more awake when it's light.
Over time, your body sets an internal clock to that rhythm, so your body knows when to fall asleep and when to wake up.
Daylight savings throws off your circadian rhythm a bit. Over the short term, this can make you sleepy and awake at the wrong times. But if you already are sleep-deprived or have trouble falling asleep, the time change can make things worse.
It's not just the time change that messes up our sleep routine. Sleep researchers have found that late-night web surfing, smartphone use and stress disrupt the circadian rhythm and make it harder of us to get some shut-eye.
Why sleep is so important
Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your physical health, your work and your relationships.
- Physical health: According to the National Institutes of Health, lack of sleep can increase your risk for obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and stroke. It also can make it harder to fight off infections and viruses. Sleep is key to making your brain and body work the way it should. For example, a 2010 study showed that people who sleep six or fewer hours a night make more of a hormone called C-reactive protein, which makes you more likely to have a heart attack.
- Workplace: Your brain needs rest to learn and make good decisions. A 2012 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology linked lack of sleep to errors, accidents, lack of creativity and cyber loafing, which is when you spend time playing games or checking social media while at work.
- Relationships: Feel constantly tired? You are more likely to argue with your friends and loved ones. Has your boss been a little more critical lately? The research team of the University of Washington showed that workplace managers are more likely to be abusive if they are not well rested.
Tips for better sleep
The first step in getting better sleep is practicing healthy sleep habits. Here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation:
- Give yourself a bedtime—and a wake time. At first, it may be hard to fall asleep or wake up during these times, but your body will get used to it. Try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
- Create a bedtime ritual. Maybe it's reading in bed for a half hour under a bedside lamp, a nightly bath or a 10-minute meditation. The key is to prepare your mind and body for sleep. That means avoiding anything that can create stress or excitement—like your work email or a loud TV show right before bed.
- Put the screens to bed. Late-night smartphone use or web surfing can mess up your circadian rhythm. That's because screens give off blue light, which your brain interprets as daylight. Avoid screen time right before bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool, but not cold. It's easier to get drowsy and stay asleep in a room that is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. If that feels too cool for you, try wearing socks or place a hot water bottle by your feet to help your body get to the right sleep temperature.
- Take a power nap. Just a 30-minute snooze can help fix a poor night's sleep, making you feel more alert, energetic and refreshed. Try to keep your naps short and earlier in the day—long naps can leave you groggy, and later naps can make it difficult to sleep at night.
Track your sleep
If you use a fitness tracker, you may be able to track your bedtimes and wake times on it, too. This can help you learn how much sleep you really are getting and help you spot any patterns between your sleep and how you feel overall. You can also download an app like Sleepbot or SleepCycle (available for iOS and Android devices) to track your sleep.