Disclaimer: The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
What does healthy living mean to you? For many people, it includes exercising regularly and eating a nutritious diet. What some may fail to realize, however, is the importance of sleep. Getting adequate rest each night is just as crucial as eating right and moving regularly. However, the demands of life can often make it challenging to get enough sleep, leading many people to neglect this aspect of their health. Keep reading to learn more about the impact of sleeping habits on physical and mental health, including the potential benefits of prioritizing high-quality rest.
Why Is Sleep Important?
Sleep provides a reset for your body and mind at the end of each day, while also acting as a crucial avenue for repair. As you sleep, your brain is still actively working, never fully shutting down. During this time, the brain forms long-term memories, removes toxins from its system, and rebuilds the immune system. Without sleep, these processes might not take place, or if they do, they may not be as effective.
Sleep affects your respiratory system, metabolism, and thinking and memory. Those who don’t get enough sleep may be at higher risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, certain illnesses, poor mental health, and problems with concentration.
Individuals who do get enough sleep tend to learn with greater ease, remember things better, get sick less often, stay at a healthy weight, experience less stress, and reduce their risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They also are less likely to develop mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. When these disorders are present, sleep can help alleviate symptoms and promote healing.
How Much Sleep Does The Average Person Need?
The amount of sleep someone needs can vary from person to person, depending on their age and health status. Newborns, babies, children, and teens all have different recommendations for how much sleep they need. For example, babies might sleep up to 16 hours per day, while teens often need 8-10 hours.
According to experts, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every single night. Those who rest for less than 7 hours may experience more health concerns. However, the hours of sleep may not be relevant if you’re not getting quality sleep. It’s important to aim for the right amount of sleep and to ensure that it’s high-quality.
How To Develop Healthy Sleep Habits
Establishing a healthy sleep schedule can take some time and effort, which most find to be worth it. The following are some tips and tricks for those seeking to develop healthier sleeping habits:
- Avoid lights: Being exposed to light at night can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour biological clock that determines what time you fall asleep every night and wake up each day. Light can cause you to wake up prematurely, or even in the middle of the night, reducing the quality of the rest you’re getting. Be sure to switch off the TV at least two hours before bedtime and avoid falling asleep with any lights on in your bedroom. If you’re someone who uses the bathroom during the night, consider placing nightlights along your path to avoid turning on the brighter lights.
- Get into a routine: Having a sleep routine can help prepare your body and mind for bed, making it easier to fall asleep when you need to. For example, you might cook a meal at 5 pm, have a small snack and a glass of milk at 7 pm, take a warm bath, and then read a book on your couch before climbing into bed at 9 pm. Sticking to this schedule every day can help keep you on track for a solid night of shut-eye.
- Try a calming activity: If your mind is stimulated when you crawl into bed, it may be more challenging to fall asleep. Instead of watching TV or doing a puzzle, opt for a more calming activity just before going to sleep. You might knit, read a book, write in a journal, listen to soft music, or meditate.
- Avoid large meals and stimulating drinks: Eating or drinking right before bed can give you an unwanted burst of energy and keep you awake. Coffee and alcohol are especially important to avoid close to bedtime. It’s fine to have a small snack a couple of hours before bedtime but be sure to choose healthy options, such as a banana, mixed nuts, or yogurt.
- Aim for consistency: Even on the weekends, it’s important to aim to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time every morning. Doing so helps keep your biological clock in order, effectively signaling to your body and mind when it’s time to fall asleep and wake up.
- Only use your bed for sleep: It’s crucial to only use your bed for sleep and sex. Avoid reading, watching TV, or eating in your bed when possible. If you accidentally fall asleep on the couch, move to your bed as soon as you get a chance. You want your brain to associate your bed with falling asleep so that when you lie down each night, you’re able to drift off into slumber with relative ease.
- Stick to the 20-minute rule: If you can’t fall asleep and 20 minutes have passed, try getting out of bed and doing something relaxing until you feel sleepy. Avoid getting on your phone or watching TV, as these activities can wake you up even more because of the light they emit. Staying in bed for more than 20 minutes while tossing and turning can lead to a negative association between your brain and bed, causing you to feel distressed each time you try to sleep. Aim to help your brain associate your bed with drowsiness and relaxation by getting up when you’re struggling to fall asleep.
When it comes to sleep, something different works for everyone. What matters is finding a routine that works for you and listening to your body. If you feel you aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s important to find ways to create more time for rest in your life. Further, if you’re experiencing issues falling or staying asleep, identifying the reason why could be the difference between positive and poor health.
What To Do When You Can’t Sleep
It’s natural not to be able to sleep at times, such as the night before your wedding, a big presentation at work, or a trip to see loved ones that you miss. However, if you’re experiencing regular sleep issues, such as insomnia, there could be an underlying cause. Addressing these concerns with a doctor can be an important first step. In some cases, it could also be helpful to visit a therapist to rule out any mental health conditions. BetterHelp offers online therapy for a variety of concerns, including those related to sleep. Working with a therapist can help you get to the root of your sleeping issues and make the necessary changes to get the rest you need.
Alongside diet and exercise, sleep also plays a critical role in maintaining our health, both physically and mentally. Often, the benefits we draw from sleep come down to our habits at bedtime. Those who establish a consistent bedtime routine and protect their sleep by avoiding lights and caffeine are more likely to experience the positive outcomes of getting enough high-quality rest. These benefits range from improved mental health to increased concentration to a reduced risk of major illnesses like heart disease. Addressing any sleep concerns that you may have with a professional can be essential in ensuring you’re on the right track. Recognizing the importance of sleep can be the first step toward committing yourself to a lifetime of healthy sleep habits.