Sleep is essential for the proper functioning of the entire body’s systems. Without it, the body and brain begin to suffer immensely. The amount of sleep we get every night is directly reflected in our overall health. Having strategies in place to improve your sleep is paramount to overall increased quality of life.
A lack of sleep is correlated with decreased mental health, a suppressed immune system, an increased risk of chronic disease, and a low-functioning metabolism. Inversely, people that get an average of 7 or more hours of sleep per night tend to have a higher level of cognitive function, experience less incidence of mental illness, and are healthier overall than those who do not.
Some people naturally struggle to get enough sleep due to issues like insomnia, anxiety, or high-stress levels. Additionally, some people experience very few issues falling asleep but struggle to remain in a sleep state. Constant wakeups and disrupted sleep have been shown to have the same detrimental effects on health as a general lack of sleep. Fortunately, there are some actionable strategies to begin making progress on your sleep patterns and, as a result, to improve your mental and physical well-being.
Supplement With Magnesium
The general role of magnesium within the body is blood pressure regulation, nerve function, and decreased anxiety symptoms. According to a recent study done by the Cleveland Clinic, magnesium can also help regulate the neurotransmitters that are directly involved in sleep. Because it can decrease anxiety and induce a feeling of calm, it can improve sleep as a result. There are quite a few different variations of magnesium, but magnesium citrate has been shown to have the greatest effect on sleep. Taking one serving anywhere from an hour to thirty minutes before bed is the best way to allow the body to feel the effects without risking a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip that disturbs sleep.
Avoid Blue Light
The light emitted from most forms of technology is known as blue light, and this hurts the body’s natural sleep system. Blue light blocks the body’s hormone that induces the feeling of getting drowsy, melatonin. This light form affects our levels of alertness and keeps the brain in a highly stimulated state. This is counterproductive to falling asleep, even if the light is used in a fully dark room.
As a general rule of thumb, it is best to avoid any form of blue light for an hour before bedtime. This applies to televisions, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Although this can be difficult, it is important to allow natural hormone regulation to occur within the body. A substitute for this bedtime activity can be reading a book, listening to a meditation tape, or journaling. These activities allow the brain to wind down and induce proper melatonin release.
Cut Down On Caffeine
Unsurprisingly, caffeine is incredibly harmful to the body’s ability to induce sleep. While some people may claim it does not affect their sleep much, most people are impacted dramatically by this stimulant. 90% of Americans over the age of 18 consume caffeine every day. Because of this, researchers have been able to conduct significant amounts of research regarding caffeine’s effects on sleep.
One of the most common side effects of caffeine consumption is sleep deprivation. The reason for this is that caffeinated beverages are consumed at often unregulated hours of the day, which is confusing to our naturally schedule-seeking selves. Caffeine also inhibits the production of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin, which is the main metabolite of melatonin. Without proper melatonin creation, it is challenging to feel sleepy enough to fall asleep.
Research has shown that consuming any amount of caffeine even six hours before bedtime disrupts sleep. Because the effects are so harmful when it comes to proper sleep, it is recommended to quit consuming caffeine eight or more hours before bedtime. Even so, it can stay in your system for as long as 24 hours. Assessing how your body personally reacts to caffeine and establishing your guidelines for when it is safe to consume without sleep disruption is recommended to establish a regular sleep schedule.
Daily Exercise and Sunshine
We are internally wired to sync our sleep and wake schedules with the sun. When we expose ourselves to natural sunlight first thing in the morning, our bodies respond by becoming alert and energized. Alternatively, when the sun goes down, our bodies begin to produce melatonin. By allowing yourself even just ten minutes of natural light exposure first thing in the morning, you can effectively increase your alertness during the day while also allowing your body to adjust to a natural rhythm. As a result, your body will become accustomed to waking up with the sunlight and winding down once it is dark outside.
Exercise is another incredible way to induce positive sleep patterns as it allows the body to become tired by the end of the day from a physical and mental standpoint. During exercise, the body releases endorphins which improve positive mood and decrease stress levels. Stress is a direct inhibitor of proper sleep, so exercising to combat high cortisol levels is highly beneficial. Also, increased energy expenditure helps us feel physically tired by the end of the day. Especially for those that work sedentary jobs, this is crucial. An easy and effective way to tie in both exercise and sunlight is by starting the day with a brisk walk.
Stick To A Schedule
Our bodies are constantly seeking a state of homeostasis and regulation. Having a consistent schedule is one key element of this internal process. Keeping a schedule of waking and sleeping at the same time is vital for maintaining positive sleep patterns.
A common mistake many people make is allowing themselves to drastically alter their sleep schedules on the weekend. Staying up later or sleeping in often does more harm than good. Although it may sound beneficial to allow yourself to sleep in and catch up on extra hours, it knocks the body out of its circadian rhythm. Instead, sticking to precise bedtime and waking hours will decrease tiredness throughout the day and promote the feeling of drowsiness in the evening.
Another helpful tool is to create a bedtime routine that is repeated every night. This pattern will further induce the feeling of sleepiness as the body learns that this is a sign that sleep is coming. This could be as simple as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and reading a chapter in a book. As long as the behavior is consistently repeated, it will assist in establishing a schedule. Finally, avoid napping whenever possible as this disrupts the circadian rhythm as well. Instead, opt for a slightly earlier bedtime when needed and wake at the normal time you’ve set for yourself.
Limit Alcohol Intake
There is a common misconception that alcohol induces sleep. Many people rely on a nightly alcoholic beverage to wind down or become tired. Ironically, when people wake up from getting eight or more hours after a night of drinking, they are likely to feel even more exhausted than they would have if they had gotten 6-7 hours of sober sleep.
The reason for this is that alcohol is a sedative, so although it does induce grogginess, it does not equate to a solid sleep. The reasoning behind this is that having alcohol in your system prevents the body from entering REM sleep, which is where the feeling of restfulness comes from. Vital brain processes occur during this stage of sleep and inhibiting them produces a detrimental effect the following day. Alcohol disrupts slow-wave sleep and REM, resulting in sleep disruptions and lower-quality rest overall.
Additionally, chronic alcohol use has been shown to increase the risk of developing a serious disorder known as sleep apnea by a whopping 25%. Sleep apnea causes lapses in the breathing pattern while asleep and can be fatal in some cases. Ultimately, avoiding alcohol entirely is the best way to ensure that it does not harm your sleep. If you do choose to partake, limit the amount and frequency.
Implementing the above strategies can drastically improve overall sleep quality, which leads to improved mood, cognitive function, alertness, and well-being. Remaining consistent with these behaviors can increase both mental and physical health as well as the quality of life.
We Can Help!
MHThrive provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Online Treatment Programs provides Teletherapy Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs allowing participants to receive intensive therapy with our licensed therapists and psychiatrists without having to leave home. If you or someone you know is struggling to overcome depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, panic attacks, PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health or addiction issues, we can help. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our teletherapy programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.