Do you find yourself going to bed and then lying in the dark, not being able to fall asleep? Maybe you go to sleep easily but then wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. If this sounds like you, it may be time to fix your sleep schedule. Keep reading to learn more about why sleep is important and tips to help you fall asleep fast for a good night’s sleep.
What is circadian rhythm?
Circadian rhythm is your body’s cycle of functions during each 24-hour day, masterminded by your brain’s internal clock. One of the most critical parts of the circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle, which takes cues from your environment and routines, but is primarily tied to daylight and darkness. When light is present in our environment, especially the outdoors, the brain tells our system to be awake and alert. When it’s dark, the brain tells our system that it’s time for sleep and sends melatonin through our systems.
This was an efficient system for our early ancestors, whose world was dictated by nature’s cycles. But we now have electricity, televisions, tablets, and smartphones, all of which can tell our brain to stay awake – and that’s even before we talk about caffeine consumption. We’re also not always great about dealing with our daily stress and anxiety, which can interfere with relaxation and sleep.
Why Is Sleep Important?
If you have trouble sleeping, you’re certainly not alone. The Cleveland Clinic says there are more than 100 million Americans – in a nation of about 330 million – who are not getting enough sleep. About 70 million of those are affected by sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, or narcolepsy.
On top of that, statistics from the Centre's for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that a little over 30 percent of adults 18 and over get less than seven hours of sleep per night. This percentage ranges from about 30 percent in the Plains and Northwest to about 35 percent in the Southwest, about 36 percent in the centre South, and, as you get closer to the East Coast, the percentage rises to above 40 percent.
Maybe you are one of the 30% of Americans who don’t get enough sleep but still feel okay the next day. You may not feel the effects, but your lack of sleep may be impacting your body in ways you didn’t think possible. For example, people who get less than seven hours of sleep are more likely to be affected by heart disease, stroke, asthma, COPD, cancer, arthritis, depression, and diabetes. On the other hand, people who get enough sleep (seven or more hours) are statistically less likely to be obese or sedentary, to smoke, or to drink too much alcohol, according to the CDC.
How can you fix your sleep schedule?
If you don’t suspect a larger problem that requires a doctor’s attention, like sleep apnoea or narcolepsy, and yet are still unable to get a good night’s rest, consider trying to reset your sleep schedule. You can do a lot on your own to enhance your ability to get a good night’s rest. Here are some factors you can change:
- Set times and stick with them: You should go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends. This helps anchor your time to sleep and wake in your circadian rhythm and help you fall asleep and wake more easily.
- Turn off your devices 30 minutes before bed: When it’s time for sleep, your body secretes melatonin, but the blue light from your smartphone or tablet can interfere with melatonin’s calming effect.
- Be aware of your light patterns: Expose yourself to bright and, preferably, natural light in the mornings, and limit your exposure to bright light in the evenings.
- Skip those tempting naps: It can make it harder for you to stay asleep at night. If you need to nap, try to keep it to under 30 minutes; longer naps can interfere more, and they’ll leave you groggy.
- Get regular exercise: As long as you don’t do it in a couple of hours before bed (which can overstimulate you and have the opposite effect), regular exercise has been shown to enable more deep sleep, the most restful kind of sleep. Thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise is all you need.
- Check out your sleep environment: Is it dark enough, or do you have light from street lamps pouring in through a window? If so, think about investing in blackout shades. Is your room quiet enough? If not, white noise can help. Is it the right temperature? The ideal temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees.
- Do you have a good bed? It seems elementary, but if your mattress is too old or not suitable for you, it can interrupt your sleep, and you can wake up with aches, pains, and stiffness.
- Don’t eat or drink right before bed: Your last meal should be at least a couple of hours before bedtime, allowing your digestive system to do its work before you’re trying to fall asleep. Also, keep in mind that alcohol upsets your circadian rhythm.
- No caffeine past late afternoon: Of course, you say. That makes sense to everyone. But the problem is that if we’re in sleep deprivation, we use caffeine to get through our daily lives. The later in the day you consume caffeine, the more it can interfere with sleep.
- Start a meditation practice: Research suggests that it helps improve the effects of insomnia, particularly mindfulness meditation. The Sleep Foundation says medication helps your mind go into a relaxed state, helping manage stress or anxiety.
- Try CBD for sleep: The Endocannabinoid System regulates circadian rhythms. This system helps maintain body functions such as appetite, mood, and sleep. Research suggests that CBD – which stands for cannabidiol – may help with both falling and staying asleep. Used in conjunction with the other tips above, CBD can become a valuable tool in your sleep toolbox.
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