A poor night’s sleep can leave you feeling tired and irritable and can negatively impact your ability to concentrate throughout the day. So, what can you do to help get your sleep schedule back on track? The first step is understanding the root cause of your sleep woes.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
The amount of sleep we need to feel our best fluctuates as we age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends young children get between 12-16 hours of sleep each day. Adults, on the other hand, only need between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly to feel adequately rested in the morning. Every individual is different, and you know best how much sleep will leave you feeling ready to take on the day.
Do I Have Insomnia?
Insomnia – the sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep – can be intermittent or long-lasting. Insomnia often occurs as your body is put through life stressors such as starting a new job or jet lag. Loud sounds and bright lights can also jeopardize a restful sleep, and other lifestyle factors like anxiety and depression, eating too close to bedtime, and lack of physical activity are associated with insomnia too.
Studies show that 1 in 3 adults will experience insomnia at some point in their lives. Here are some common reasons why sleep may be alluding you:
• Diet – You are what you eat, and if what you eat is spicy, full of caffeine, or alcoholic, odds are the quality of your sleep will suffer. Spicy and acidic foods are known to cause heartburn, which can prevent you from getting comfortable before bed. Just as important is when you eat before bedtime. Harvard University recommends eating dinner several hours before hitting the hay to allow time to properly digest your meal.
• Lack of Exercise – Studies show that exercise decreases insomnia. In fact, doctors at the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep note that the impacts of exercise on sleep are similar to sleeping pills, and “people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night.” Consider adding light to moderate exercise to your routine and see how you feel.
• Stress – Everyday stress can compromise your sleep, so it’s important to seek out treatments. Before you rest your head on your pillow, carve out time to relax. Breathing deeply, listening to soothing music, dimming the lights, and taking a warm bath all signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down.
If you suspect your feelings of stress could be more serious, set up an appointment with your primary care doctor or a therapist. Depression and anxiety are notorious insomnia culprits, and medication or talk therapy may help.
• Sleep Apnea – Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is often associated with loud snoring. In truth, the disorder can become incredibly serious if left untreated. Obesity and age are the two most common risk factors for developing sleep apnea.
Speak with a medical professional to undergo testing if you believe you may have sleep apnea. Treatments may include a weight loss program or the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
• Inconsistency + Poor Bedtime Habits – When it comes to your sleep patterns, consistency matters. If your bedtime and wake times vary dramatically each day – or even on the weekends – your sleep clock can fall off cycle, and it will take time to train your body to get back on schedule.
Screen time before bed is also a no-no. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that all electronic devices – including your cell phone, computer, and television— should be shut off at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
What Should I Do If I Can’t Sleep
If you’re having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, you might consider participating in a sleep study or taking an online quiz regarding common insomnia symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests keeping a sleep diary to track your daily habits. List the times you go to bed, wake up, get out of bed, nap, exercise, drink alcohol, and drink caffeine.
Include notes about how you’re feeling as well. Are you relaxed when you hit the sack, or are you feeling down? Are you worried about all the work waiting for you at the office? All of this information will be helpful for you and your doctor to identify patterns and narrow in on what might be to blame for your sleep disorder, whether it be stress-related or otherwise. Based on your personal data, together, you can craft a treatment plan that’s right for you.