Do you feel like you spend more time tossing and turning than actually sleeping? You’re not alone. In fact, 1 in 3 adults aren’t getting enough shut-eye, according to the CDC.
With a hectic to-do list and an always on-the-go lifestyle, many of us treat sleep as a luxury rather than a necessity—and the pandemic certainly hasn't helped things, even if many of us now have more time to sleep than we once did.
Sleep is an essential part of our overall health, and a lack of sleep can lead to major health issues down the line such as sleep onset insomnia or sleep apnea.
So, the real question is: Why is falling asleep such a challenge? There are many reasons for poor sleep ranging from your emotional state to negative technology and wellness habits.
We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM, an expert in sleep medicine who shared the importance of good sleep hygiene and three effective solutions to improve quality of sleep.
- Minimize stress
When it comes to sleep issues, stress is one of the main culprits. This includes both mental and physical stress, whether it’s your mind racing or your electronic gadgets placing stress on your body via the now-famous "text neck."
Reducing stress can help prevent cortisol (the stress hormone) imbalance and promote sound sleep.
Minimizing stress is one of Dr. Lam's top sleep tips. “When you wake up in the morning, cortisol levels are high and gradually decrease throughout the day, dropping just before bedtime to initiate sleep,” she explains. “However, constant stress can lead to cortisol imbalance, which could mean the levels of this hormone are not low enough to promote sound sleep.”
In order to reduce stress, consider disconnecting from your devices before bedtime. This is one of the most simple yet effective relaxation techniques. Set aside at least 30 minutes to get your mind and body ready to rest. Rather than scrolling through your phone, read a book, and if you want to fall asleep fast, take a warm bath. Research confirms that hot water changes your core body temperature and promotes healthy sleep.
- Maintain a consistent sleep routine
Do you fall asleep at different times each night? Do you make napping a habit? Finding a specific time to go to bed is a vital part of a good night's sleep.
When your sleep hormone levels are balanced, you’re less likely to have sleep problems. Melatonin levels rise approximately two hours before you go to sleep, whereas cortisol levels go down, Lam says. As a result, regulating your sleep schedule is important.
Going to bed and waking up at a set time every day and ensures a healthy circadian rhythm and balance of sleep hormones (melatonin, cortisol, and orexin) in your body.
- Create a better sleep environment
What does your bedtime routine look like? Are you lying in bed for hours watching TV, browsing social media or responding to emails? Is there a lot of white noise in the background?
If your mind is overstimulated before bed, restful sleep becomes more difficult. This is where creating a good sleep environment comes in. Studies have shown that blue light exposure (from TVs, laptops, and cell phones) suppress melatonin production, whereas red light is less likely to suppress melatonin and mess with your internal clock.
“So, before you go to sleep, stay away from artificial lights and electronic devices since they interfere with hormone production,” Dr. Lam suggests. “The pineal gland of your brain produces the sleep hormone melatonin and is considered your body’s natural pacemaker.”
Instead, try different mindfulness exercises. Meditate for 15 to 20 minutes. Take a few deep breaths to lower your heart rate, close your eyes and picture a relaxing scene. Visualization can work wonders for your mental state.
Or if you're looking for specific sleep aids, give aromatherapy a try! Lavender is a great essential oil to help you doze off into a deep sleep.
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