I think many of us underestimate the value in a good night's sleep. Oftentimes, we'll trade a few extra hours of perceived productivity “getting ahead” rather than hitting the hay. We think back to our college days of all-nighters and getting by on only minimal hours of sleep and it leads us to believe that we can make that sacrifice.
In reality, quality sleep is a non-negotiable when it comes to your health and wellness. While some of the world's top professionals and world leaders will brag about how few hours they sleep, research shows time and time again just how critical our sleep is to our health.
Why Does Sleep Really Matter?
Sleep does so much for us—so much more than just keeping you from being cranky in the morning. Sleep actively promotes healthy brain function, increases and improves your capacity to learn and remember information, and improves your ability to function during the day. It's crucial for your mental and emotional health.
Not only that, but quality sleep has been heavily linked to heart health. Good sleep can prevent heart disease and high blood pressure. It can keep your risk of kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke at bay as sleep involves the repair and renewal of the heart and blood vessels.
Because sleep also regulates hormones, including insulin and the hormone that controls hunger, quality sleep has been linked with weight management, while poor quality sleep has been linked to obesity.
And this only scratches the surface! So how do we improve the quality of our sleep?
7 Steps to Maximizing Your Sleep Quality
1) Be consistent.
One of the critical steps in any sleep routine is just that: routine. If you want quality sleep, you must be consistent. Aim to fall asleep at the same time each night and rise at the time. Breaking your pattern, even on weekends (staying up late and sleeping in) can throw off your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels, which can disrupt your quality of sleep.
2) Ditch the digital devices.
We all know that digital devices are bad for sleep. Whether it's leaving the television on at night, staying up on your smartphone, or keeping a digital clock at the bedside. All of these things can be bad for your sleep quality. Blue light emitted from our devices can trick the brain into believing that it's daytime, which keeps us awake. Leave devices behind at least two hours before bedtime to maximize sleep quality. As for digital clocks? If you have trouble sleeping, checking the time at a glance just exacerbates the problem.
3) Take a cold shower.
If you don't want to take an icy cold shower, think “cool” shower instead. This one might sound counterproductive. After all, most of us think a warm or even a hot shower would be more relaxing. But we have to think in biological terms here. Our bodies gradually warm up during the day, up through the afternoon. As the evening and night approach, our bodies begin to cool back down as a signal that it's time to sleep.
A warm or hot shower that heats the body back up can confuse the circadian rhythm (which tells the body when to stay awake and when it's time to sleep). Instead, a cool shower can signal the body that it's time to wind down and make your sleep more swift and satisfying.
4) Optimize your temperature.
There's a perfect balance for bedroom and body temperature if you want to sleep well. What you want is a cool body but warm feet! Make sure you keep the temperature of your bedroom turned down but wear socks to bed if you're prone to frigid toes. Cold feet, surprisingly, is one of the top things that keep people from falling asleep fast.
5) Mind your diet.
Your midnight snack might be disrupting your sleep. Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt the release of melatonin. Large meals, particularly, can hurt your chances of achieving quality sleep. That said, some studies have shown improvement in sleep with both high carb and low carb meals late in the evening. Some midnight snacks can aid in sleep, while others can hurt. Steer clear of alcohol and foods that may cause indigestion and heartburn.
It's important to give yourself time to decompress from the stresses of the day before you try to sleep. If you're plagued by racing thoughts, it may be difficult to achieve sleep quickly. Instead, carve out time for yourself. Meditate, pray, journal, or simply do something you enjoy. It might be reading a few chapters in a book, taking a bath, or spending leisure time in a hobby. Whatever it is, make sure it brings you relaxation: not stress.
7) Rule out major issues.
Lastly, rule out the possibility of major issues. That could be internal factors, like a sleep disorder, and external issues, like the need for a new mattress or the right kind of pillow. There are often things we try to make work in our environment or things that we haven't recognized about ourselves that prevent us from sleeping well. Examine your sleeping habits and see if you have any of the tell-tale signs of a sleep disorder or any aches and pains associated with a poor sleeping environment.
What have you found to maximize the quality of your sleep? Share your best tricks and tips in the comments.