I am an insomniac, one of millions of people that have problems falling asleep and staying asleep. According to the Mayo Clinic insomnia affects three million patients in the United States each year, that’s a lot of tired people! There are very few things that help me sleep and I’ve tried the teas, the pills and all the rest. (No pun intended.) So, what’s proven to actually help you fall asleep and stay asleep naturally? Let’s find out!
Why is Sleep SO Important?
Everyone knows that a lack of sleep will leave you grumpy and irritated, in need of caffeine and craving your pillow but what are the long term effects of a bad sleep routine? According to sleep experts insomnia or chronic sleeplessness impacts both physical and cognitive functioning in a number of areas. Let’s take a look at this chart -
*Healthline’s Article: ‘The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body’ by Stephanie Watson and Kristeen Cherney, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body
1. Memory Issues -
Memory is something so important for our daily functioning and is greatly impacted by our quality of sleep. Regular restlessness makes it harder for you to remember what you did just the day before and this can lead to some stressful situations. Maybe you find it harder to remember where you put your keys the night before or you just can’t remember where you left your wallet. Really frustrating right? Scientists have determined that our ‘awake brain’ controls the encoding of memory, this is where your brain breaks down the information we gather through our senses and turns them into memories. But it’s our ‘sleeping brain’ that consolidates these memories and is responsible for sorting and storing them for later use. If you constantly mess with this consolidation system you have a greater risk for forgetting information from the day before. So, you might not be incredibly forgetful but chronically sleepy!
2. Trouble Thinking & Concentrating -
I don’t know about you but when I’m sleepy my mind is everywhere. It’s hard to concentrate when the only thing you want is your bed right? But there’s a huge connection between a lack of sleep and our ability to think and concentrate effectively. Sleep acts as the brain’s rinse cycle acting to reset our mind and body for the next day. Think about it like this: if you don’t sleep your brain becomes fuzzy and clogged with a mishmash of unimportant information that prevents you from working effectively the following day. Rinse off your brains guys!
3. Moodiness -
Not just an effect of age, moodiness following chronic lack of sleep or sleep deprivation is incredibly common. Have you noticed that when you drive after a night of less than optimal sleep you’re more irritated? This is because you haven’t rested your amygdala or the emotion control center of the brain, causing it to become hyper-sensitive to certain stimuli creating negative emotions. Sleepy individuals are more likely to become angry, depressed or display erratic behavior. Which brings us to -
4. Increased Risk for Accidents -
Research has shown that sleepy individuals are more likely to take risks than their well rested counterparts. Some studies have found sleepy individuals to pose just as much risk to those on the road as drunk drivers.
5. Weakened Immunity -
In recent times we’ve placed a huge importance on immunity and immune health but a lack of sleep is attributed to lower rates of immunity across every age range. Not only do you have a greater risk for catching disease when you’re sick but you’ll also have a harder time getting over any illnesses you catch. Sleep helps by improving your resistance to certain diseases (the adaptive immune system) and by removing and regulating certain types of cellular waste that contributes to diseases.
6. High Blood Pressure -
Insufficient sleep increases high blood pressure and increased risk for heart disease. Going to bed is incredibly important for maintaining regular blood pressure. While the link between lack of sleep and high blood pressure have been proven experts aren’t exactly sure why this occurs, just that it occurs when you have less than 6 hours of sleep.
7. Increased Risk of Diabetes -
Diabetes and sleep loss often go hand in hand; your diabetes causes you to have disturbed sleep and your lack of sleep can cause you to have an increased risk of diabetes. Scary! Chronic sleeplessness can lead to increased and high blood sugar because we tend to reach for sugary snacks to replace the sleep we lost. That Dunkin Coffee that’s a morning must-have because you didn’t sleep the night before is filled with sugary additives! Drink that 3-4 times a week? A recipe for high blood sugar which is a precursor to diabetes!
8. Increased Risk for Heart Disease -
Earlier we talked about the risk for high blood pressure due to lack of sleep but hypertension can also lead to an increased risk for heart disease. Not to mention chronic restlessness leads to increased levels of adrenaline in the nervous system. High levels of this flight or fight hormone can leave you with an irregular heart beat over time!
9. Low Sex Drive -
If you aren’t sleeping what else are you supposed to do in bed? Unfortunately if you aren’t sleeping you’re probably also not having sex with your partner either from general exhaustion or the mood changes associated with sleeplessness. In a study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine there’s a positive correlation between sleep and arousal in women (an increase of 14% per hour after 6 hours of sleep!) In men, lack of sleep is also attributed to erectile dysfunction later in life think 50’s+. While it might sound counterintuitive sleep=more sex.
10. Difficulty Balancing -
This effect is particularly detrimental for older people or those who already suffer from mobility issues. Lack of sleep makes you reckless but it also makes you clumsy, you’re more likely to fall if you’re tired. This can have deadly consequences for those who can’t get themselves up.
Lack of sleep impacts us negatively in so many ways but what if you’re like me and have tried everything? What are you supposed to do then?
Better Sleep Solutions
Now that we understand why sleep is so integral to health let’s understand how we can sleep faster, longer and better!
Why should you care about your sleep schedule in the daytime? You’re (probably) not nocturnal right? There are many things you can do during the daytime to increase your ability to sleep and the quality of your sleep.
Exercise - According to leading health research exercising during the day can help you not only fall asleep faster but stay asleep longer! Keep in mind that experts recommend morning exercise routines to promote sleep so your body has plenty of time to wind down. So, what exercises are recommended?
Aerobic Exercise - running, jogging, walking or swimming are great examples.
Weight Lifting - Make your muscles sleepy!
Yoga - Get into a meditative state of mind with some early morning stretches, check out our online yoga routines for more inspiration.
Consistent Alarms - If you’re like me then you like to hit that snooze button once (okay maybe a couple of times) in the morning. Whether you use one alarm to wake up or have a whole host of alarms (a big no-no according to sleep specialists) all the experts say you should wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. By waking up at the same time every day you can train your body to crave bed at around the same time every day.
Limiting Caffeine (And Alcohol) - That morning mimosa might really affect how you go to bed that same night, even if you drank it at 9am. The same goes for coffee and caffeine consumption in general. If you drink coffee even six hours before bed you can lose one hour of sleep at night. While that might not seem like a lot, if you drink coffee six hours before bed each night and lose one hour of sleep that’s seven hours in a week, twenty-eight hours in a month and three hundred and thirty-six hours in a year! That’s a lot of missed sleep!
These daytime steps can help aid in upping your sleep pre-game but what is sleep hygiene?
What is Sleep Hygiene?
“Sleep hygiene” refers to a combination of sleep habits and the sleep environment that can aid or limit your ability to sleep. If you’re staying awake until 3am with the TV on and a Monster on your nightstand you get an F in your sleep hygiene guys. But what ways can you improve your sleep hygiene .
The Sleep Hygiene Checklist
Unplug and turn off all electronics 60-30 minutes before bed.
This step removes harmful blue light from the environment which affects your circadian rhythm.
2. Take a warm shower or bath.
Warm up the muscles and prepare your body for sleep.
(Add Epsom salts or a bath bomb for added relaxation.)
3. Drop (or raise) the temperature
The ideal sleep temperature is 65 degrees but in winter having a heating pad can further promote sleep.
4. Make (or Remake) your bed
Fluff those pillows, dust off that comforter, create a sleep oasis. Nothing is more annoying than having to readjust after the lights are off!
5. Try Aromatherapy
You know CCR’s love for lavender but there are plenty of other scents available to help you fall asleep faster!
6. Is it your Mattress? Sheets? Pillow?
Sometimes no matter what you do you might not be able to sleep but it could just be your bed! Always test your mattress, pillows and sheets for lumpy spots, tears, rips or other discomforts that could keep you awake!
7. Try a Winding Down Activity
Winding down activities are meant to help your brain calm down for sleep like reading, writing, doodling or meditation.
8. Listen to Sleep Music
There are AMAZING sleep playlists out there that are meant to help you wind down and relax. Some of them are even 8+ hours!
Massaging the hands, feet and neck before bed isn’t just self-love but can also help you fall asleep. Try scents specifically meant for sleep (I love the Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy line) or ask your partner to help for added comfort.
10. Commit to Sleep
This might sound easy but committing to sleep means not allowing yourself to get distracted from your ultimate goal - sleep. No phone calls, no emails, no deadlines, only sleep!
11. Block out the Light
Hello darkness your old friend! Make sure to limit the amount of light before you sleep, make the room as dark as you’re comfortable to get your circadian rhythm going.
12. Try a Sleep Supplement
If you're still unable to sleep after checking off everything else on this list you might want to try a sleep supplement. Melatonin is a great one, so is magnesium but if you want something a little more targeted check out our Sleep Support shop:
Using this checklist you can learn to improve your sleep habits and create a whole new sleep routine!
Feeling sleepy yet? If not check out our lavender article down below for more relaxation techniques!
Irish, L. A., Kline, C. E., Gunn, H. E., Buysse, D. J., & Hall, M. H. (2015). The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 22, 23-36. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.001
Luyster, F. S., Strollo, P. J., Zee, P. C., & Walsh, J. K. (2012). Sleep: A health imperative. Sleep, 35(6), 727-734. doi:10.5665/sleep.1846
Newman, A., Nieto, J., Guidry, U., Lind, B., Redline, S., Shahar, Y., . . . Quan, S. (2001). Relation of sleep-disordered breathing to cardiovascular disease risk factors : The sleep heart health study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 154(1), 50-59. doi:10.1093/aje/154.1.50
Van Dongen, H. P., Maislin, G., Mullington, J. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). The cumulative cost of Additional WAKEFULNESS: Dose-Response effects on Neurobehavioral functions and SLEEP physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep, 26(2), 117-126. doi:10.1093/sleep/26.2.117
Watson, S. (2020, May 15). 11 effects of sleep deprivation on your body. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body
Zee, P. C. (2006). Sleep and health. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(16), 1686. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.16.1686