How have you been sleeping lately?
I have been feeling more tired than usual lately. So, I have been thinking a lot about how to get not only more hours of sleep, but how to get more quality sleep. My trusty Garmin watch not only tracks my workouts, it also tracks my sleep patterns. But what does it all mean?
Here’s what the typical sleep cycle looks like:
- Light sleep (non-REM): During this phase, you fall asleep, but you can more easily wake up.
- Deep sleep (non-REM): This is the type of sleep your body needs to feel rested in the morning. If you wake up during deep sleep, you are likely to feel groggy at first.
- REM sleep: After deep sleep, rapid eye movement sleep begins, which is characterized by your eyes moving behind your eyelids. This is when you dream and, if you wake up during this cycle, you may remember your dream. This stage should occupy 20-25% of your total sleep time.
Studies conducted with healthy adults have shown that better sleep is associated with a multitude of improved cognitive functions, including better learning and memory. Although the exact mechanisms behind the relationship between sleep and memory are still unknown, the general understanding is that specific connections in your brain that were active during awake-periods are strengthened during sleep, allowing for the consolidation of memory.
Poor sleep has been shown to lead to a decline in cognitive functions. Interestingly, research has shown that the cognitive performance of a person who has been awake for 17 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. In other words, your ability to think clearly has been proven to be actually impaired when you are sleep-deprived.
We all have felt the negative effects of sleep deprivation, but getting good quality sleep is not as simple as just staying in bed longer. Here are 5 tips to actually help you improve your sleep quality:
GET ENOUGH EXERCISE
According to Max Kerr, DDS, a dental sleep expert at SleepBetterAustin.com, engaging in purposeful movement throughout the day is one of the best ways to ensure you sleep well at night.
TAKE TIME TO WIND DOWN BEFORE GOING TO BED
An hour before bedtime, develop a calming routine that you can look forward to throughout the day. Things like reading (something non-work related, of course!), meditating or simply writing down some things you are grateful for are all good options.
On the flip side, this is not a good time to check your social media or work on clearing out your email inbox as these can potentially increase stress, worry or strong emotions. “When we use social media or check the news, we don’t know what we will be exposed to and which emotions it will give rise to, and it’s easy to get stuck for too long,” says sleep expert Frida Rångtell, PhD.
Also, eating or drinking too close to bedtime causes our body to focus on digestion when it really should be shifting into a state of relaxation. This is especially true when it comes to alcohol or a nightly glass of wine, which may help you get to bed but disrupts your REM cycle, which will reduce your sleep quality. The more time between consuming alcohol and your bedtime, the better.
Take time before getting into bed to allow your body to get into a state of relaxation so that you can fall asleep and stay asleep easier.
TAKE A WARM BATH OR SHOWER
About an hour before bed is a great time to wash away the stress of the day, according to one research analysis published in Sleep Medicine Reviews. Experts found either a warm bath or shower pre-sleep can improve your sleep quality and help you fall asleep. Just make sure that your body temperature has time to return to normal before your head hits the pillow.
PREPARE YOUR SLEEP SPACE
Make sure your bed is used only for sleep, and that it is ready for you when you decide to get into it. That may involve taking off a few pillows or swapping out a blanket that will make you most comfortable for the day’s temperature inside your home, depending on the season. “When you create a conditioned response that the bed is only used for sleep, it allows your brain to create an association between bed and sleep,” says Annie Miller, LCSW. “So, avoid reading in bed, watching TV in bed, and even snoozing your alarm in bed for too long in the morning.”
MAKE BEDTIME A “JUDGEMENT-FREE” ZONE
Be patient with yourself & give yourself grace. Instead of focusing on how little sleep you may get and worrying about the situation, think positive thoughts. “Soothe negative thoughts about sleep by understanding that you will be OK if you don’t sleep well that night,” says Miller. “Before bedtime, try to redirect your mind to other, more positive things.”
Relaxation does not always come automatically. Give yourself time to learn how to relax the mind and handle your emotions. “For instance, using mindfulness relaxation techniques and scheduling time for reflection can all be great,” says Rångtell. “Be gentle with your bedtime buffer zone, and allow yourself some time to get used to your new routine.”