More often than not, the importance of sleep is neglected in cultures where busyness is almost seen as a badge of honor.
And even when we think about ways to improve our well-being, sleep doesn’t usually make it to the top 5 on the list. I wonder, what is it about sleep that’s so unattractive? Is it because it’s perceived as a sign of laziness? Or because it’s seen as a waste of time that could otherwise be used to be productive and get ahead in life.
If I could link these reasons to one source, it would be this: The constant pressure to succeed.
Stress, anxiety, and poor nutrition are all factors that contribute to a less than optimal quality and quantity of sleep.
May is Mental Health Month, and with that, I feel like it’s our responsibility to reflect on our life choices and become aware of how important it is to take care of our well-being and to make gradual changes that could benefit our physical and mental health. Here, we'll discuss why sleep is so important, the benefits of a good night's sleep, and simple things that you can do before going to bed and right before falling asleep that could help you sleep better.
Why is Sleep Important?
Bad sleep quality has negative effects on your physical health. It contributes to low energy levels that lead to slow metabolism, lack of exercise, and obesity. It’s also been linked to an increased risk of heart diseases and stroke.
Alertness, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities are also hindered by a lack of sleep. This leads to poor day-to-day choices that are eventually shaping the course of your life.
Studies show that poor sleep quality is linked to depression, making it much more crucial to pay close attention to sleeping habits, especially for those with sleeping disorders.
A lack of sleep has been proven to affect the immune system. This means that sleeping less than 8 hours a day may be preventing your body from fighting common diseases.
Benefits of a Good Night Sleep
Optimizing sleep quality may be one of the biggest steps you can take to improve your health.
It can boost your immune system and protect you from common diseases, increase your physical performance during workouts, help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your cognition levels to make smarter choices, and generally, contribute to making healthier choices and a happier lifestyle.
In “Thrive”, Arianna Huffington describes sleep as one of her success metrics, citing studies that have shown how sleep deprivation is detrimental to success and growth and how good sleep habits have strong ripple effects in other areas of our lives.
How to Sleep Better? Easy Ways to Improve your Bedtime Routine and Fall Asleep Faster
Now, what does it really mean to have a good night’s sleep? Mental Health America defines it this way:
1. Being asleep for at least 85% of the time you are in bed
2. Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
3. Waking up no more than once per night for no longer than 20 minutes.
Do you check all of these boxes? If not, you may find this useful. See the recommendations below for simple ways to improve your bedtime routine and fall asleep faster.
1. Be consistent with your bedtime to help regulate your circadian rhythm. If you’re an iPhone user, try the “bedtime” alarm, it reminds you when your bedtime approaches and calculates the number of hours you’ll be sleeping. An adult should get 7-8 hrs of sleep daily.
2. Avoid eating or drinking too close to bedtime.
3. Avoid blue light from your phone, laptop, TV, and iPads before bedtime.
4. Adjust the room temperature. Around 70°F seems to be a comfortable temperature to sleep for most people.
5. Practice breathing techniques before falling asleep. One of the most effective techniques is the Combat Breathing Technique that the Military uses to sleep fast and remain calm. It works simply by breathing and holding in counts of fours. Inhale on a count of 4, hold 4 seconds, release on a count of 4.
6. Sleep meditation. I highly recommend the Insight Timer app. It has an entire section dedicated to guided sleep meditation.
As important as it is to create a healthy evening routine, I would argue that it’s even more important to know how to fall asleep and remain asleep during the night. It's all about knowing what works best for your body and mind to get in a full state of relaxation.
When thinking about a holistic approach to health, nutrition and exercise are not the only areas that need our attention, mental health and well-being should take a leading role in this process in order to lead a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.