It’s 7 o’clock. Your alarm clock buzzes and you need to be in the office by 9AM. With your eyes still closed, you blindly reach for the snooze button. Five more minutes, you say. Half an hour later, you begrudgingly throw your sheets on the floor, bummed that you have to hit the shower. If only you could get a couple more minutes of sleep.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
Sleeping late in the evening can do all sorts of weird things to the body. For one, you feel groggy the next day. You become irritable, and you lose concentration which affects your productivity.
But did you know that lack of sleep also makes you gain weight? According to a study, people make poor food choices when they don’t get enough sleep. It’s no surprise then that we feel ravenous the next day. The body searches for energy from carbs and fats to make up for the lack of sleep. And the rational part of the brain (the frontal lobe) – the one that usually makes us think twice about having that third slice of pizza in the morning – It’s also on sleep mode!
Weight gain is just one problem, but there are other health issues that you may encounter when you don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to cognitive impairment and makes your immune system weak. You can easily catch a cold, or in the worst case scenario, develop cardiovascular problems and cancer over time.
How serious is your sleeping problem?
The simplest solution to dodge these health problems is to get the recommended hours of sleep (7-9 hours (for adults)).
But sometimes getting enough shuteye is just too plain difficult. Drinking caffeine in the afternoon and using electronic gadgets before bedtime are two reasons why. What if you’ve checked those things off your list and still can’t sleep? Could you be suffering from something more serious?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 50-70 million American adults suffer from sleeping disorders. That’s just one continent, but you can see how common sleeping disorders are.
Insomnia, or difficulty in sleeping, is perhaps the most well-known sleeping disorder. Short-term insomnia may be due to stress, disease, medication, or diet. But if you’re suffering from a prolonged case of insomnia, you need to see a physician for medical treatment.
Others may not have trouble sleeping at night but still find themselves sleep deprived. It could be because of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which is, by definition, difficulty in breathing during sleep. This happens when air flowing through the windpipe is blocked. As you gasp for air, your sleep is upset and you feel extremely groggy in the morning.
REM sleep behavior disorder happens during the dream phase of sleep. A person with REM sleep behavior disorder or Parasomnia may act out a dream. This is why some people walk or talk during sleep. Just like with insomnia, REM sleep behavior disorder can also be treated with medications or by modifying the sleeping environment.
Natural solutions for a better sleep
According to BetterSleep.org, people are more likely to die from sleep deprivation rather than from food deprivation. Sleep is fundamental to our wellbeing. If that need is not met, our health suffers.
But whether you’re suffering from insomnia or disturbed sleep, you can make these simple tweaks for a more restful sleep:
Make a pre-bedtime snack
Sleeping on a full stomach is bad for digestion. But sleeping on an empty stomach affects the quality of sleep. If you feel morning fatigue or headache, it could be due to low blood sugar from the overnight fast. To avoid blood sugar from crashing and to prevent yourself from feeling like crap in the morning, snack on a handful of low-glycemic index foods. Tim Ferriss recommends snacking on a couple of celery sticks and some almonds.
Take a cold shower before bed
Some people recommend taking a hot shower, but this raises the body temperature. It makes sleeping a lot harder. If you shower with cold water, your body temperature drops, making it easier for you to doze off and stay asleep.
Include aromatherapy in your nighttime routine
Certain scents, like lavender, have a calming effect on the nerves and are great for helping you fall asleep. Chamomile and bergamot work just as well. These subtle fragrances soothe the senses and prepare you for a restful sleep. Just stay away from invigorating scents like citrus and vanilla!
Cool your bedroom
Just as a hot shower can make you more alert, a hot bedroom can also disrupt sleep. According to a Huffington Post article, the optimal sleeping temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (around 19 degrees Celsius), whereas anything above 75 degrees can disrupt sleep. Can’t find the right mix of cold and warm? Cover yourself with a blanket and stick your feet out.
Keep your sleeping quarters dark
Melatonin is a hormone responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. When there is light in the bedroom, the body temperature increases and delays the release of melatonin. The result is wakefulness and difficulty in going back to sleep. Invest in blackout shades to block out lights from windows. Alternatively, you can also use a cotton sleep mask.
Put on some white noise
A snoring partner and the noise from the street can keep you wide awake. Put on some white noise to block out annoying sounds. While it sounds counterintuitive to make more noise to fall asleep, consistent noise, like the low humming of a fan, is sleep-inducing (compared to the jolting sound of a race car).
Treat your bedroom as a sacred place
The bedroom is a place for sleeping. That much, we already know. But it’s not uncommon for many of us to bring work home. If you can’t help but work in the bedroom, do your best to at least keep the bed clutter-free.
Sleep in clean sheets
Beddings absorb perspiration and dirt and are home to thousands of dust mites. That thought alone is enough to keep you wide awake at night. There’s something comforting about sleeping in clean beddings, so do change your sheets at least once a week.
Write down your thoughts
The moment right before sleep hits you is often the time when the best (and worst) thoughts enter your head. If you can’t shake off those thoughts, put them down in writing. Keep a small notebook beside your bed so you can easily jot down your thoughts at bedtime.
Walk it off
Sleep can be really evasive at times. Don’t force it. Instead of trying to count sheep, walk it off for a few minutes. Read a book that you don’t find very interesting or drink a glass of milk. After 20 minutes, come back to bed and you’ll be ready to fall asleep.
We all experience sleeping problems at different times of our lives. The health hacks above can help in lulling you to sleep. But if your sleeping problem remains persistent, it’s best to see a doctor for professional help!