This lack of sleep is doing more than making us grouchy. Science links insufficient sleep to all sorts of problems, including high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, weakened immunity, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, memory issues, trouble concentrating and accidents. Last year, the CDC labeled sleep deprivation a public health epidemic, and while nagging sleep disorders are to blame for some of the sleep deficit, bad sleep habits are also a major culprit.
If you’re dozing off just reading this, don’t panic. Practicing better sleep habits can chip away at numerous serious health risks, one night at a time. Tonight, 35 percent of American adults will not get a good night sleep, but you don’t have to be one of them. Before you hit the sack, try these simple strategies to get the precious sleep your body needs.
Give yourself a bedtime. Don’t skimp on weekday sleep and rely on weekend binge sleeping to catch up. Your body responds to a natural sleep cycle, so work backwards to establish a daily bedtime that accommodates at least seven hours of sleep before your morning alarm. Consistency is key, so if you’re a night owl, apps like Bedtime on your iPhone can help you stay on schedule.
Ease into the sack. Even the best sleepers need some time to unwind before their head hits the pillow. Aim to wrap up dinner and exercise a couple of hours before bedtime, avoid alcohol and smoking, and focus on reading, deep breathing or muscle relaxation to slow down your body and mind.
Power down. Resist the urge to crawl into bed with your phone or laptop, which even in the most relaxing circumstances can stimulate your brain and make it tough to fall asleep. Instead, send your last emails and texts a few hours before bed, charge devices outside the bedroom and embrace a tech-free sleep zone for sound slumber.
Don’t lose sleep over lost sleep. It’s impossible to sleep well all night, every night. If you’re wide awake when you should be sleeping, change the scenery and start the decompression process over with a good book or quiet (screen-free) activity. If you have a rough night, go to bed a little earlier the next night, but avoid naps and other quick fixes that may throw off your entire sleep routine.
Put sleep troubles to bed. Sometimes even the best sleep regimen doesn’t work. If you suspect that you’re suffering from a sleep disorder or side effects associated with a lack of sleep, talk to a provider about possible solutions. Not sleeping is bad enough without having to feel the added stress of resulting related health complications. Chances are, there are solutions that can rescue you from maddening sleepless nights, so take the time to get to the bottom of your sleep trouble.
Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but many Americans still manage to shuffle shut eye to the bottom of their priority list. If your days are getting longer and your nights are getting shorter, it’s time to change how you think about sleep, and that starts with adopting a healthier sleep regimen that gets you closer to getting the sleep you need to function well every day of the week.