Often, we have come across the phrase ‘to sleep like a baby’, and as adults, all of us long to do just that. Especially after a tiring day of work and related pressures, all one wants to do is to crash in bed and enjoy the luxury of a nightlong, uninterrupted sleep. However, in today’s fast-paced world not everyone can enjoy this privilege as they would want to and end up getting worked-up, stressed, anxious and in some cases even depressed – all of which causes havoc to our mental and physical health. In this article, we will cover the importance of sleep and how to improve night-time sleep.
Importance of Sleep
A good night’s sleep is an essential factor that promotes both our physical health as well as mental well-being. Whilst we enjoy a peaceful sleep, our heart and blood vessels are being continuously repaired and healed. Our mood and performance the following day say a lot about the kind of sleep we had the night before – which means, a cheerful personality combined with a drive to give our 100% to ace our day’s activity is directly proportional to a peaceful, night-long sleep. While sleep is necessary for adults for the aforementioned reasons, in the case of little kids and teens, sleep promotes both mental and physical growth and development. Sleep deprivation can harm our body and life in ways more than one. For instance, prolonged lack of sleep for days together can meddle with rational thinking, create confusion, lead to memory loss, make the person irritable, and in some cases lead to depression as well; along with conspicuous changes in physical health and outward appearance of the person. A sleep-deprived person should refrain from driving, operating machines, etc for it could lead to fatal consequences if taken lightly.
Researchers have concluded that a good night’s sleep improves brain function by enhancing the ability to observe, analyze and learn. A person who habitually sleeps well through the night is always a better thinker and decision-maker than one who is sleep-deprived. Sleep also plays an important role in emotional well-being. Sleep deprivation is often accompanied by mood swings and when the condition prolongs the person tends to feel sad, suicidal and destructive. They turn into pessimists and loners. Apart from this, in terms of our physical health, lack of sleep can lead to diseases that affect the heart, kidney and can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and stroke. Better sleep is also said to play an important role in enhancing our immune system, puberty, fertility and many such important aspects of our lives. So, hands down, sleep is essential for our overall health.
How Much Sleep Is Necessary?
The amount of sleep required by an individual may vary from person-to-person, largely depending on age. For eg, infants require sleep ranging between 12-16 hours a day, children below 10 years require up to 14 hours a day depending on the age-group, teens would need 13-18 hours of sleep and adults need up to 8 hours of sleep a day. The sleep lost during the night is referred to as sleep debt. So, if a person loses 3 hours of sleep each night it calculates to a sleep debt of 21 hours of sleep over that week. Naps can to some extent compensate for some amount of the sleep lost during the night and aid in adding to one’s energy over the day, but napping cannot be resorted to instead of a night-long sleep. Healthcare workers and shift workers would need to emphasize more on their body-clock requirements, as compared to others and compensate for the sleep debts at the earliest to stay healthy and sane.
Ways To Help Promote Better Sleep
Just as the food we eat and the lifestyle we follow help to enhance our physical and mental strength, certain measures can help induce and enhance our night sleep. Let us take a look at some of them:
- Sleeping on time – align your natural body clock in rhythmic connection to the timings of sunrise and sunset. This means every day you should follow a healthy routine when it comes to bedtime so that your body can automatically get used to sleeping and waking up on time. After a while, you won’t even need an alarm clock to wake you up. Helping set this pattern improves sleep quality.
- Create a cozy sleeping space – just as much as your bedroom décor reflects your inner personality, whilst you set it up also ensure that the space helps promote an uninterrupted night of sleep. For the same, many people resort to placing the furniture accordingly, setting up necessary dim-lights for night-time usage or no lights turned on, making sure the bedroom portion is situated away from external noise factors like traffic, optimizing the bedroom temperature, etc. to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Good smell, a clean and quiet room, soft and comfortable beddings are also some factors that help promote better sleep.
- Bright light exposure during daytime – the circadian rhythm of our body, otherwise referred to as our body-clock, regulates our mind, body and hormones. It signals us when it is time to sleep and when is the time to stay awake. Exposing ourselves to sunlight helps keep the circadian rhythm stable thereby promoting better night-time sleep in terms of duration and quality of sleep. It has been greatly shown to help those with insomnia.
- Follow a calming pre-bedtime routine – some common pre-bedtime routines that people follow to calm the mind and body are reading a book, taking a warm bath, listening to some light music, practicing deep-breathing exercises, etc. Some people are also known to meditate to help them sleep better.
- Exercise regularly – exercising on a routine basis during the day not only improves your overall health but also helps to induce sleep and relaxation at night. In cases of people with sleep disorders, regular exercise worked better in improving their sleep-pattern than drugs used for the same. This point can be attributed to the fact that it stimulates hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline which helps the person enjoy a relaxed night-time sleep.
- Foods that can promote sleep – consuming certain foods about 2-3 hours before bedtime can help induce sleep and enhance sleep quality like turkey, chamomile tea, almonds, kiwi, walnuts, certain fatty-fish, white rice, banana, a glass of warm milk, etc. This is because they are known to contain antioxidants and nutrients like magnesium and melatonin as well as others that help improve sleep.
Activities To Avoid
Certain activities disrupt sleep patterns and the quality of sleep and should be avoided before bedtime. They are:
- Avoid caffeine in the evenings.
- Reduce day-time napping hours.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before bedtime.
- Avoid consuming late-evening, heavy meals.
- Avoid increased blue-light exposure from electronic gadgets in the evenings.
- Don’t do vigorous exercises in the evenings.
It is important to pay attention to what your body tells you regarding the sleep and rest that it needs. If one feels overwhelmed, exhausted and tired it is a definitive indication that your body is way past the resting time. So, calling it a day and sleeping at the immediate onset of tiredness is essential to repair and energize your brain and body especially during the night. Take the help of an expert if you feel you are either sleeping inadequately or more than required, as they could be indications of underlying health conditions and the doctor would be able to better guide you on how to improve your sleep patterns.