Roughly one third of American adults are not getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sleep deprivation, if not handled properly, can lead to serious medical issues, up to and including death.
While coffee and eye cream can mask the immediate side effects of missing out on valuable rest, they cannot make up for the myriad of disorders that can result from a prolonged deficiency.
Lack of sleep can result in mood swings, increase your chances of diabetes and stroke, cause obesity, and even make you forget everyday things. Just one restless night won’t put you at risk, but for those battling sleep deprivation, the effects can be staggering.
While the effects sound terrifying, if you’re the one in three not getting enough sleep, you can find comfort in knowing that you’re in charge. Take back control by trying one of these 10 tips to a better night’s rest.
Check your Routine
Humans are creatures of habit, and as such, their bodies naturally crave a set bed time. If you’re constantly changing your sleep schedule then you’re upsetting your body’s natural cycle. When pushing past your normal bedtime, you’re telling your body to reset–making it harder to calm down when you really are ready for dreamland.
If you’re one of the people constantly changing their sleeping habits, then try to develop a more unified approach to sleep. Wake up at a regular time each day, unwind the same way, and certainly try to make sure that you’re crawling under the covers consistently every night.
Take a Break
Maybe your lack of routine isn’t your fault. Are you a new parent or in college? Those long nights soothing a crying baby to sleep or cramming for a midterm can upset your schedule, leaving new parents and college kids alike crying for sleep.
If you’re in an unavoidable situation that doesn’t let you go to bed at the same time every night, and certainly doesn’t let you get a consistent 8 hours of ZZZZs, then try taking a break. No, you can’t neglect your newborn or your studies, but you can find a babysitter for a night and start planning your studies better.
Don’t feel guilty for spending resources just to go to bed; sleep deprivation ultimately hurts everything you’re responsible for–newborns and college.
You’ve probably heard it before, but exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy. But did you know that endorphins can help with sleep? Their primary job is to reduce pain and stress, coating your brain in a natural morphine-like euphoria.
Endorphins, though, can also act as a sedative, making you sleepy after the initial release. Exercise is one of the easiest, most natural ways for you to safely discharge endorphins. So not only does the physical act of exercise oftentimes leave you fatigued, but the chemicals that come along with working out bathes your brain in a sedative.
Just make sure you don’t run a marathon too close to bed time–you might not have enough time to come off from that runner’s high.
Your diet affects more than just your weight. Eating healthy always has, and always will, lead to a healthier lifestyle–that’s why it’s in the name. Gorging on greasy or spicy foods can upset your stomach, leading to digestive discomfort in the middle of the night.
Even more so, an unhealthy diet can affect other parts of your body, including your heart, liver, and lungs, which in turn can cause seemingly unnoticeable sleep disturbances. Alcohol, while helpful in getting you to sleep, actually makes your body wake up earlier–disrupting your natural sleep cycle. So if you’re struggling to fall or stay asleep, take a break from the junk food, forgo alcoholic beverages for a while, and start eating your greens.
Reset your (Electronic) Clock
Electronics consumer the average American. They can also disrupt your sleep pattern. The blue screen staring at your face each night before you go to bed actually alerts the brain, causing it to kick into gear and prepare for the onslaught of work it thinks it’s going to do.
Obsessing over deadlines that are oftentimes associated with smartphones, computers, and tablets (where you probably check for correspondence from that overly diligent boss or obsessive dating partner) can also cause you unneeded stress, making you lie awake in bed at night.
Reset your clock by cleansing yourself of electronics for a weekend. Do a technology fast by going camping, getting back to nature, or by just avoiding the screens you generally use in your everyday life.
Sometimes the biggest cause of sleep deprivation can be as simple as not preparing your body for rest. If you’re constantly going to bed directly after writing a term paper, sending another email to your boss explaining why the numbers didn’t match up, or arguing with a loved one, then your mind is too preoccupied to rest.
It’s true that one of the reasons we sleep is to work out these problems and reset for the next day, but if you’re overthinking too much, you won’t be able to get the sleep you need. To help eliminate this problem, start an unwinding routine each night.
Go through the natural rhythms of your day, but then end it with a relaxing bath or a pleasant conversation with a friend. Stop working or stressing out over life’s ups and downs at least an hour before bedtime, and then put yourself in your own personal comfort zone, preparing for bed. You may also listen to some white noise to fall asleep a bit quicker (see our white noise machine reviews here)
Start Cuddling–or Stop
Research is mixed on whether or not wrapping yourself in the arms of a lover or friend helps you sleep better at night. While some studies suggest that the increased sense of security and comfort leads to better rest, others say the exact opposite–proposing that the additional person constrains the body’s natural movements during the night and can cause you to startle yourself awake.
The only way to know if cuddling works for you, though, is to try it out. If you don’t have someone to share the sheets with, try purchasing a “boyfriend pillow” or become the “big spoon” and pull out that old, raggedy teddy bear from your childhood–it could help take you back to dreamland.
Check your Comfort
Maybe the biggest issue for your sleep deprivation is simply your lack of proper sleep gear. Check the quality of your mattress: is it too soft or too hard for you? Maybe it has a spring poking you or an ungodly odor.
Pay attention to what you’re wearing at night. Your clothing could be getting tangled up in your sheets, constricting around your ankles, or irritating you. Some people choose to sleep in the buff. Maybe your sheets aren’t the right quality for your sensitive skin.
If you believe that you’re not sleeping because you aren’t comfortable enough, then start changing one element of your bedding at a time until you figure out which is the culprit.
Finally, consider using eye masks for sleeping. There are some great sleep masks available for sale and our guide covers them. Wearing sleep mask will help you fall asleep quicker and enjoy an undisturbed sleep – especially if you use it together with sleep ear plugs (which we wholeheartedly recommend).
Keep a Sleep Journal
If you already follow a schedule and don’t have anything upsetting your daily routine, then perhaps it’s time to keep a sleep journal. Sometimes it might seem like you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep, when in reality, you’re tossing and turning at night.
The quality of sleep, it turns out, is just as important as the quantity. If you wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to drift back off, then write it down. Keep a detailed record of how much you actually slept during the night, any naps you might have taken during the day, and how many times you woke up during your allotted 8 hours.
If you see a distinguishable pattern, then address the issues you can. However, if you’re uncertain of the cause, see a doctor, which brings us to our last suggestion.
Seek Medical Help
When you’ve tried everything you could possibly think of and sleep still isn’t coming to you, then it might be time to seek medical attention. After keeping a sleep journal for a week, schedule an appointment with a doctor (either an M.D. or a psychologist) and get down to the nitty-gritty of your sleep problems.
You could have one of many different sleep disorders causing you to wake when you want to rest. You should especially seek medical help if you find yourself staying up for multiple nights a week with little to no rest, if you startle yourself awake by snoring or not breathing, or if you are falling asleep in the middle of an arousing event. These could be signs of serious medical conditions that, if untreated, could lead to life-threatening consequences.