Do you struggle with sleep?
It wouldn’t be surprising if you do. Various studies worldwide have shown the prevalence of insomnia in 10%–30% of the population, some even as high as 50%–60%. In particular, women seem to be the ones struggling the most to get adequate sleep. Researchers from The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study that shows that up to 67% of women report struggling with insomnia, disrupted sleep, and lack of sleep at least a few nights during the past month, and 46% reported problems almost every night. Furthermore, even when able to fall and stay asleep, American adults simply aren’t getting enough of it. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults, yet nearly 36% report regularly getting less than 7 hours of shut-eye. You may be thinking this isn’t such a big deal… “I’ll just keep enjoying my morning choice of caffeine, and I’ll be fine.” I would encourage you to think again.
Sleep is vital to our overall health and well-being
Getting enough quality sleep at particular times rejuvenates our physical health and brings stability to our mental health, productivity, and quality of life. When we sleep, our body is quite busy making repairs. The brain does the work of integrating all we have learned and discovered throughout the day with everything we have learned previously. Additionally, the brain is being “washed” of toxins and waste products as the heart and blood vessels repair themselves.
Ongoing sleep deprivation has been linked to a higher rate of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. It has also been linked to a risk of obesity and metabolism disruption due to hormonal imbalance. When we lack sleep, the hormone that makes us feel full (leptin) goes down, and the hormone that drives hunger (ghrelin) rises. Ever notice cravings for high fat and high carb foods when you’re tired? A lack of good quality sleep could be to blame. Additionally, a lack of sleep can also contribute to irritability, lack of focus, and low mood.
Scientists are still trying to tease apart all the ways ongoing sleep disruption impacts our mental health. So far, the research shows that when we don’t get proper sleep, an imbalanced level of neurotransmitters and stress hormones wreak havoc in the brain. This imbalance leads to the impairment of our thinking and negatively impacts our ability to regulate emotion. What we know for certain is that sleep is powerful and undeniably influential!
What to do if you’re struggling to get quality sleep
If you are struggling with getting restorative sleep, you may be wondering what you can do about it. Thankfully, there is a lot that you can do to improve the quality of your slumber. The following six tips are broad, and within each are numerous opportunities for action:
- Create a sleep schedule and stick to it.
- As much as possible, go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day to train your biological clock.
- Begin your bedtime routine approximately 30 minutes before your scheduled bedtime in order to wind down.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink.
- Avoid foods and beverages containing caffeine after 2 pm if you have trouble falling asleep.
- Finish all eating 3 hours before bedtime and avoid drinking more than 4-8 ounces of fluid before going to bed.
- Create an environment that is restful and ideal for sleep.
- If using a tablet or phone for reading, make sure they are in the nighttime setting and that your brightness is as low as possible.
- Decrease irritating noises in your space by closing windows, using earplugs, or using a white noise generator.
- Limit daytime naps.
- Avoid late afternoon or evening naps.
- Limit naps to less than 45 minutes during the day.
- Include movement in your day.
- Research suggests that including movement in your daily routine can help you fall asleep more quickly and improve sleep quality.
- Experiment with the time of day you exercise. Sometimes if done too late in the day, physical activity can interfere with falling asleep. Try to complete activities at least 1-2 hours before bedtime to allow endorphin levels to drop.
- Improve management of stress.
- Avoid anxiety-provoking activities or thoughts before bedtime. If thoughts creep in, try using a journal to write down any unsettling thoughts running through your mind to let them go.
- Use positive self-talk phrases like “I can relax and fall asleep” instead of focusing on negative self-judgments about your sleep struggles.
Need some extra encouragement?
Changing our habits is tough. Often the patterns we establish around sleep have been with us for years. Making impactful changes that stick can require a focused plan and concerted effort. If you are having trouble modifying your ability to fall and stay asleep, consider partnering with a health and wellness coach for support, validation, and the development of an action plan. Together you can explore the potential contributing factors and design steps to intervene that are achievable and lead to success in achieving that elusive, restorative shut-eye! If you would like to talk with a health coach about achieving better sleep or other wellness areas where you would like to make changes, click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Health and Wellness Coach Kimberly Smith, MSSW, FMCHC-CIT.