Refreshing sleep is a huge part of staying healthy, yet the average American nets 6.8 hours of sleep per night – which means that most of us are chronically sleep deprived.
The cost of sleep deprivation
There are many mental and physical consequences of not getting enough sleep. These include reduced concentration, an increase in blood pressure, irritability, reduced energy/motivation, and an increase in the production of stress hormones. Decreased alertness and daytime sleepiness can impair memory and cognitive ability, and reduce work performance. In severe cases poor sleep has been linked to serious consequences, such as an increased risk of workplace and automotive injuries.
Improve your sleep environment
Now that you’re convinced—how do you go about improving the quality and quantity of sleep? First, explore environmental factors. Your bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet, and should be free of electronics. Avoid associating your bed with work or leisure activities, such as watching television. If noise is an issue, consider a white noise machine. Make sure your bed is comfortable and inviting—invest in supportive pillows, soft sheets, and cozy blankets. Avoid caffeinated beverages in the afternoon and evening. Studies have found that consuming caffeine up to six hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by one full hour.
Better sleep through lifestyle changes
Next, focus on the more challenging task of changing your sleep habits and routine. Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids. Adults should have some sort of consistent pre-bedtime routine—this helps tell your brain and body that it’s time to wind down. Part of this routine should include turning off electronics, ideally one hour before bedtime.
The blue light in electronics suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals our brain that it’s time for sleep. This is often the most challenging habit change, as electronics use is a common way to wind down at night. Switching to a book, or another relaxing activity that isn’t electronic, an hour before bed is key.
Finding what works for you may be trial and error—and if you can only turn off the electronics a half hour before bed, that’s still better than using them right up until you hit the pillow.
Time management can also be a factor. Because we’re so plugged in, many of us catch up on work in the evening. Having a set time to stop work, a few hours before bed, can help with sleep, as most people need at least some time to relax before going to bed.
Where to seek help
Habit change can be hard. If you find that you’re having trouble adjusting your routine, facing a challenge with time management, or if you just don’t know where to start, PRO Medical Counseling can be a helpful resource. Our licensed counselors can help you troubleshoot and provide education and customized recommendations for improving your quality of sleep.