Have you ever thought to yourself “being healthy is a lot of work”? We are often told that to improve our health, we need to exercise more, eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, and drink more water. And while all these things are important, what if you were told that there is something you can do to improve your health that is so simple you can do it with your eyes closed?!
Research shows that getting adequate, good quality sleep is key to good health? You may wonder “What benefit do I get from good sleep?” “How can I get better sleep?” “What about naps, do they count?” “Are supplements or sleeping pills safe for me to take?” Let’s look at why getting better sleep may improve your health and how you can do it!
Sleep is key for cardiovascular health
Poor sleep can cause stress, hormone imbalance, breathing problems, weight gain and inflammation, all of which can have a negative effect on heart health. Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
Sleep is key for healthy weight and diabetes management
Poor sleep has also been shown to influence our body’s metabolic system, causing stress, hormone imbalance, weight gain and even leading to eating disorders and diabetes. Getting poor sleep is to higher blood sugar levels in people with both diabetes and prediabetes. There is even a correlation found between higher blood sugar levels and later sleep schedules or irregular sleep schedules in people not diagnosed with diabetes.
Sleep is key for optimal brain function
It’s no secret that lack of sleep decreases concentration. This is largely due to the fact that poor sleep affects the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones in the body which make it challenging to think clearly and regulate emotions. You may have heard of REM sleep which is the dreaming phase of sleep; adequate REM sleep helps improve learning and memory.
Sleep is key for immune health
The body’s immune system is what protects you against illnesses like infections. Good sleep helps to keep the immune system’s defenses strong.
Sleep is key for mental/emotional health
Poor sleep has also been linked to mental and emotional problems such as depression and anxiety. Neurotransmitters and hormone levels help us to regulate emotions and studies show they can be negatively impacted when we don’t get adequate sleep.
Tips for getting better sleep
It is best to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day. If you struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep or just find enough time to sleep, this may sound like a luxury. Let’s look at some helpful tips to improve your sleep hygiene.
- Brief Sun Exposure – Getting outside in the sun daily for a few minutes is important for Vitamin D levels and regulating the body’s sleep/wake cycles. Consider taking a walk outdoors or even just relax and sit outside while drinking your morning cup of coffee!
- Eat Healthy – You probably know that eating a well-rounded diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables is important for your health, but did you know it can also support good sleep?!
- Exercise – Regular physical activity helps our bodies to be ready to sleep. Try to get 150 minutes of physical activity per week; this could be a 30-minute walk 5 days out of the week or even some house cleaning!
- Cut Caffeine – If you struggle to get good quality sleep, aim to cut off all caffeine such as coffee, sodas and some teas, 4 hours before you go to bed.
- Be Mindful of Screen Time – The light from technology screens such as TVs, computers and smartphones can interfere with the body’s sleep/wake cycle. Set a goal to avoid screen time starting an hour before you got to bed and/or dim the screen. Click here for additional “Tech Tweaks” to improve your sleep.
- Have a Relaxing Bedtime Routine – Aim to start winding down an hour before you go to bed and relax with some activities such as drinking a warm cup of tea (caffeine free), read a book or maybe take a relaxing bubble bath! (It may also be helpful to set a “bedtime alarm” to remind yourself.)
- Make the Bedroom a “Safe Haven” for Sleeping – Your bedroom should be somewhere you look forward to going to get a goodnight’s sleep. Avoid clutter or working in your bedroom. Also consider giving your bedroom a makeover for it to feel more relaxing by adding some cozy bedding or even painting it a soft blue or green color!
- Consider Skipping the Nap – When you are not getting enough sleep at night, a day-time nap can be so refreshing, however, if you struggle to fall asleep at night, consider skipping the nap so you are more ready to sleep when you go to bed for the night.
Supplements and Medication
Even after trying the sleep tips listed above, you may feel you still need more help to sleep. There are some supplements, such as Melatonin, and even over-the-counter sleep aids and prescription sleeping pills that may help. If you are thinking of trying these options, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before taking a new supplement or medication.
Pros and Cons of Napping
While, for some people, napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep at night, there can also be some benefits to taking a nap during the day. Studies in adults have shown that naps can improve alertness, memory, creativity and attitude. If you would like to try napping, consider the following:
- Mid-afternoon is the best time (around 3pm).
- To avoid waking up groggy from a deep sleep, keep the nap short, to under 20 minutes.
If you would like to get started on your journey to better sleep, start by setting a goal for yourself. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per day. Also consider implementing one of the positive, sleep promoting, habits suggested, such as: taking a walk, spending time outside, tweaking your screen time or starting a relaxing bedtime routine. Your body will thank you!