Sleep is becoming increasingly difficult for many Americans. Research suggests that working Americans are getting less sleep on average with about 35.6 percent of people are getting inadequate amounts of sleep (defined as less than seven hours per night).
Sleep is essential to just about every part of your physical, mental, and emotional health. Studies suggest that getting an additional 60 to 90 minutes of sleep per night can have a tremendous impact on your wellbeing. Learn more about sleep and how you can improve your sleep below.
Sleep and Homeostasis
Sleep is essential to maintaining whole-body homeostasis, which describes your body’s ability to keep a steady, balanced, and stable internal state regardless of what is happening around you. Homeostasis is less about any singular component and more about the cumulative processes that ensure that every organ, tissue, and cell in your body is functioning properly.
These processes and systems occur constantly and often unconsciously. Most homeostatic systems operate via the nervous system’s reaction to physiological changes. If variables diverge from an appropriate range, the nervous system signals muscles, organs, and glands to adjust and correct for those variables. This constant loop of adjusting is known as negative feedback.
Maintaining homeostasis is a big part of getting a better night’s rest, and good sleep (both quality and quantity) contributes back to maintaining homeostasis.
How to Improve Your Sleep
Reduce Screen Time Before Bed
One of the most consistent factors contributing to bad sleep is screens. Computers, TVs, phones, and mobile devices emit blue light. While light of any kind can potentially disrupt your circadian rhythm, blue light specifically has a short wavelength that has a more significant effect. Exposure to this light reduces or delays the release of melatonin, the natural hormone that induces sleep and controls your sleep-wake cycle. This means that it will take you longer to go to sleep, and when you do, you will have less REM sleep (the phase when dreams occur), which can result in you feeling sleepy even if you have had a solid eight hours of sleep.
Even disregarding the effects of light, screen time is naturally stimulating. When you play a game, watching a movie, or even have a particularly spirited phone conversation at night, you are activating parts of your brain and potentially releasing adrenaline and other chemicals instead of powering down.
It has become increasingly more obvious that reducing screen time can have a significant impact on your sleep. Unplug from any screens, including the TV, at least one hour before bedtime. If you have to finish up work or absolutely must use a screen at night, try to at least dim the light on your screen or install an app that changes the screen tones to emit more red or yellow light after sunset.
Regulate Your Caffeine Intake
Caffeine can help you maintain focus and stimulate the brain, and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with enjoying your morning cup of joe, try to avoid consuming caffeine later in the day. Studies show that caffeine has an average half-life of about five hours, meaning it takes five hours for your body to break down half a dose of caffeine. However, as everyone’s metabolism is different, caffeine’s half-life may be as high as 9.5 hours. This means that if you are drinking coffee or an energy drink later in the afternoon or evening, the caffeine will still be in your bloodstream well into your bedtime. In turn, this can disrupt your sleep and leave you tossing and turning until the caffeine is completely metabolized.
Try to set a cutoff time for your caffeine consumption. Metabolism and caffeine tolerance vary from person to person, but most experts recommend not consuming any caffeine after 2pm, or at least seven to eight hours before your bedtime.
Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
It can be tempting to head to bed late or sleep in on weekends and holidays, but you may actually be hurting your sleep in the long term. Studies show that keeping an irregular sleep pattern is significantly associated with reductions in average sleep time per day as well as poor sleep quality.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
What you eat naturally has an effect on your sleep quality. Diets that are high in saturated fats but low in fiber can reduce the length of your deep sleep phase. A high sugar diet may contribute to more tossing and turning or waking up in the middle of the night. Eating foods that trigger heartburn can also contribute to sleep problems and ultimately make bedtime miserable. By comparison, a balanced diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean sources of protein may help you get to sleep faster and allow for better sleep quality in general.
To further maintain balance in your diet, consider taking a colostrum supplement. Colostrum is packed with a wide range of macronutrients, micronutrients, and other immune-balancing compounds. All of these components help maintain whole-body homeostasis when combined with an active, healthy lifestyle.
Sleep is incredibly important to your health, and for many people, getting a good night’s rest comes down to small changes (maintaining a balanced diet and exercising regularly).