Not getting enough sleep? Most of us push through that too tired state, but it turns out sleep deprivation has some pretty scary consequences!
For instance, did you know that approximately 20% of all car accidents can be attributed to sleep deprived drivers?  Or that only snoozing five hours a night raises your risk of weight gain by 73%? 
If you’re having trouble snagging the recommended eight hours of restful slumber every night, you’re not alone. Research suggest that up to a third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep , an issue the CDC has labeled a public health epidemic since 2005. 
“Sleeping only 5 hours a night raises your risk of weight gain by 73%.”
How to catch those Z’s?
It’s not by counting sheep — scientists discovered this age-old method to be ineffective. Turns out it’s so boring, your brain ends up getting distracted! Alternatively, popping sleep aids might promote drowsiness, but often at the cost of quality sleep. 
Before we tuck into our sleeping tips, let’s take a quick look at what happens when you lay down to rest.
How Sleep Works
James Clear, author of “Transform Your Habits” gives insight to how the quality of your sleep is affected by a process called the sleep-wake cycle,  which is defined by two important parts to a healthy night of sleep:
- Slow wave sleep (also known as deep sleep)
- REM sleep (REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement)
During slow wave sleep, the body relaxes, breathing becomes regular, blood pressure falls, and the brain becomes less responsive to stimuli. Clear states that this phase of sleep is critical for the body to repair itself, including muscle damage, as well as to promote immune system functioning.
Alternatively, Clear states that REM sleep is to the mind what slow wave sleep is to the body: your brain clears out irrelevant information, boosts your memory by connecting the experiences of the last 24 hours to your previous experiences, and facilitates learning and neural growth.
A complete sleep cycle alternates every 90 to 110 minutes and is repeated four to six times per night, with REM sleep stages getting progressively longer throughout the duration of your rest.  Getting the right mix of sleep is just as important as the quantity of rest, which is why cycled sleeping patterns that promise eight hours spread over several shifts don’t work.
Ready to give your body and mind time to recover? Here are some natural, proven ways to enhance your ability to enjoy your eight hours:
Tip #1: Stick to a Sleeping Schedule
Called “good sleep hygiene” by professionals , it doesn’t mean going to bed squeaky clean! Instead, an important aspect of achieving quality, restorative sleep includes keeping on the same schedule, even on days off.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays, reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night.
There's a caveat, though. If find yourself unable to fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing and only head back to bed when you're tired. By agonizing over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.
Tip #2: Turn Down the Heat
Research shows that a cooler bedroom is often the key to better sleep.  In a study by The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, cooling caps were proven to help insomniacs snooze almost as well as those without sleep disorders. For those without insomnia, cooler temps have similar benefits, triggering your body’s “time-to-sleep” symptoms.
However, don’t feel like you have to lower your thermostat to shivering. Personal preference was decided as most important, with a setting of 65 degrees helping the most participants settle off to restful slumbers.
Tip #3: Create a Bedtime Ritual
A tactic long-supported by moms hoping to regain control over their own schedules, bedtime rituals aren’t just for babies.
Doing the same thing each night tells your body when it’s time to wind down. This might include utilizing relaxation techniques, such as a warm bath or shower. Others are lulled into relaxation by a good book — however, it’s important to keep the lights dimmed. Adding these relaxing techniques to your bedtime ritual can help promote better sleeping, by easing the transition to a drowsy state.
Tip #4: Turn Off Your Phone & Laptop
Almost a quarter of Americans text within an hour of bedtime — a habit research suggests may interfere with sleep.
Why be wary of any backlit devices?
Gazing at a glowing screen does double duty to affect your ability to fall asleep: First, backlit screens suppress melatonin production, a naturally-occurring hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. TV, phone or laptop use also stimulates your mind rather than relaxing it. Try listening to music or audio books instead, or practicing relaxation exercises.
Tip #5: Pay Attention to What You Eat & Drink
Daytime habits play a role in how you sleep, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Try to avoid going to bed hungry or stuffed and if possible, move dinner time back a few hours. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may even keep you awake. The same with anything that’s too spicy or acidic.
A few beers or a glass of wine won’t help, either. While drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep a little faster, the carb-heavy liquid gives your body energy as it metabolizes and can disturb sleep long after you’ve laid down.
Not consuming caffeine in the evening hours is pretty obvious for those seeking an easier time falling asleep. However, too much of any liquid can cause restlessness and midnight trips to the loo.
Instead, it’s suggested that a half-glass of water paired with half a sandwich, piece of fruit or yogurt will help curb cravings without keeping you awake.
Tip #7: Limit Daytime Naps
To nap or not to nap? Some studies show that napping has great benefits, including a near 10% leap in mood, alertness, and stamina. 
However, the benefits of a nap peak at 20 minutes — just enough time for your brain to dump out useless information, but not long enough to interfere with nighttime sleep. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to just one and make it during the mid afternoon.
Should you work nights, you'll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight — which adjusts your internal clock — doesn't interrupt your daytime sleep.
Tip #8: Include Physical Activity During Your Daily Routine
Regular physical activity of at least 150 minutes per week is proven to help you get better rest  by helping you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper slumbers throughout your cycle.
However, the process is more gradual and less immediately gratifying than those who are sleep-deprived might wish. It takes about four months of regular exercise to see an increase of quality sleep averaging 45 minutes per night.
Tip #9: Get Anxiety & Stress In Check
Do you find yourself unable to sleep or are still waking up night after night? Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. When you wake up or can’t get to sleep, take note of what seems to be the recurring theme. That will help you figure out what you need to do to get your stress and anger under control during the day.
If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, especially about things outside your control, you may benefit from seeking additional guidance on how to manage your thoughts. For example, meditation may help you push aside unwanted worries or calming exercises could help you replace irrational fears with more realistic thoughts.
What About Getting Back to Sleep?
It’s perfectly normal to wake briefly during the night, but good sleepers rarely remember their momentary consciousness. If you find yourself often struggling with falling back asleep, these extra tips may help:
Stay out of your head: The key to quickly getting back to sleep is continuing the cues that helped you doze off in the first place. Remain in a relaxed position and try not to worry that you’ve woken up, or that anxiety will make it harder to return to rest. Instead, close your eyes and calmly focus on the sensations your body is feeling, such as the coolness of your sheets, the fluffiness of your pillows, or the warm weight of your blankets.
Make relaxation the goal: If you’re finding it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, deep breathing, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Remind yourself that although they’re not a replacement for sleep, rest and relaxation still help rejuvenate your body.
Still awake after fifteen minutes?: Try a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim so as not to cue your body clock that it’s time to wake up. Also avoid screens of any kind—computers, TV, cell phones, iPads—since they’re stimulating to the brain.
Remember that the best way to return to blissful slumber is to avoid worrying and brainstorming. If there’s something that’s really making you feel anxious, make a brief note of it on some paper and know that whatever it is, dealing with it after a good night of rest will make any problem easier to solve.
If Your Best Efforts at Improving Sleep Don’t Help
Occasional sleepless nights affect nearly everyone. However, if you’ve tried the tips above and are still struggling with sleep problems, you may have a sleep disorder that requires professional treatment.
Consider scheduling a visit with a sleep doctor if, despite your best efforts at natural ways to improve your sleep, you are still troubled by any of the following symptoms:
- Persistent daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Loud snoring accompanied by pauses in breathing
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Frequent morning headaches
- Crawling sensations in your legs or arms at night
- Inability to move while falling asleep or waking up
- Physically acting out dreams during sleep
Wake Up Rested Every Day
Poor-quality sleep affects every hour of your day. Especially mornings! How you feel depends a lot on getting the quality of sleep your body needs to recuperate. Similarly, natural ways to improve your sleep are often alterations to your daily or evening routines.
From keeping a consistent sleep schedule to sweating out stress during the day, natural ways to improve your sleep focus on day-to-day choices, not quick fixes, that improve the quality of your nightly rest.
Once you have your sleep issues sorted out, whether by the professionals or through our tips above, you can start to fine tune the amount of sleep you actually get to make sure you get as much as you actually need.
And the bonus? By taking steps to naturally improve your sleeping patterns, you’ll feel more rested and alert! Allowing you to more easily conquer tasks and fill your day with the things you want to do, without your body or mind being worse for the wear.
- Drowsy Driving: Facts and Stats
- WebMD: Sleep and Weight Gain
- WebMD: The Toll of Sleep Loss in America
- CDC: Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic
- WebMD: Sleeping Pills- What You Need to Know
- James Clear: Better Sleep
- Sleep Foundation: Sleep Wake Cycle
- Time Magazine: Is Sleeping in a Cold Room Better For You?
- The Guardian: Napping- the expert's guide
- Sleep Foundation - Physical Activity Impacts Overall Quality of Sleep
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