Many of us cheat ourselves on a full night’s sleep. Whether you’re up worrying about debt or insurance or elections, your mind is cranking your body into gear, pumping you full of sleep-robbing adrenaline, and keeping you from a nice, peaceful rest. What do we do when we can’t sleep? Reach for the nearest hand-held electronic device, pop on the TV, or click on the light on the nightstand, scrambling our circadian rhythms and confusing our bodies with artificial light. So what can we do to make sleep a bigger, more rewarding part of our daily lives?
It starts with the environment. It goes without saying that an uncomfortable bed will keep you tossing and turning, so focus on making sure your mattress isn’t wearing out, that your bed is still in good condition, and that you’re outfitting it with proper sheets. Figure out what kinds of thread count and fibers make you feel the most cozy, and buy as many as you can afford.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you use your senses to create the perfect restful environment. Senses you don’t associate with sleep like smell can have an effect on your sleep. For example, smelly, moldy bedrooms not only bring out allergies and other breathing problems, they can keep you awake. Smelling something pleasant like lavender tends to relax you and invite sleep. Sleep experts often recommend a bundle of lavender by your nightstand.
Another sense — noise — seems like an obvious barrier to a good night’s sleep. But having a television running even on low volume can disturb your sleep patterns. White noise can alleviate background noises like traffic. For parents of newborns, not getting enough sleep is often a huge complaint. A good pediatrician or general practitioner can give new parents tips and tricks to keep themselves from collapsing.
Once you have your bedroom environment free of electronic devices, workload, bills, and a television, you and your lavender need to work out how much sleep you’re going to get. The National Sleep Foundation has a sleep chart that gives you the recommended minimum and maximum amounts of sleep per age group. Adults are supposed to get a minimum of seven hours and a maximum of nine hours of sleep. Whoa.
The consequences of not getting enough sleep are more than just falling asleep at your desk on a rainy Tuesday. Auto
accidents are an obvious consequence, but there are several you probably haven’t considered — frequency of diabetes appears to be elevated with lack of sleep. According a study conducted by the Association for Sleep Scientists, sleep duration can affect diabetes. The findings are published in the journal SLEEP. Another illness associated with lack of sleep is Alzheimer’s. It is possible that short sleep duration might lead to Alzheimer’s, but according to The National Sleep Foundation, the closer link is that elderly people who have disrupted sleep who are normally good sleepers might be experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The mental effects of a lack of sleep are also profound. Anxiety, depression, mania, and other mental states all seem to have a role in how much or how little sleep one gets. Sufferers of anxiety often have trouble falling and staying asleep, whereas people who suffer from depression have trouble with sleeping too much. Those with other mental disorders often go in cycles of too much and too little sleep, making their energy levels and abilities to cope with daily life particularly difficult. Addressing underlying mental illness can improve sleep tremendously.
So what to do if your bedroom is a veritable cloud and you’ve inhaled enough lavender to last a lifetime and sleep still evades you? It might be time to visit a sleep clinic and get your sleep patterns analyzed. Generally, patients arrive after dinner and stay until early the next morning. During the night, they are observed and monitored for problems like sleep apnea and restless legs. Once you have a sense of what is happening in your sleeping life, they can offer some remedies. After all, what could be more important than a solid eight hours? Turns out, sleep might be the most important thing of all.