Sleep Easy This Summer: Your Guide to Better Sleep, No Sheep Required
by Noa Franco, GCC Student and Wellness Program intern
The best health and wellness supplement doesn’t come in the form of a pill, powder or protein shake, but in that lumpy soft pillow that you begrudgingly leave every morning.
The power of sleep is often over looked because most of us feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. We find ourselves in a 24/7 society, unwitting participants in a daily competition to see how much we can fit into each day. It’s draining, and yet so many of us (students, staff, faculty – everyone) unconsciously take part in this cycle because it seems like an easy sacrifice, or falls low on our priority list. And when we do try to make sleep a priority, being overly exhausted can make it even harder to get the zzzs we deserve. You’re exhausted, yet your sleep sucks! Can anyone relate?
Well if you can relate, you’re not alone: according to the National Institute of Health, one in three adults is not getting enough sleep. Studies show that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep can increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain. Sleep deficiency also affects mood (anxiety, depression), cognitive functions like focus, creative problem solving and memory. Worrying about all the negative repercussions of sleep deprivation is enough to keep you up at night. So how do we fix this?
Are you getting enough sleep? How much is enough? Though this varies for each individual, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Our “biological clock”, the part of our brain that controls our sleep patterns, responds to internal cues. Our internal cues naturally make us our most tired between midnight and 7 a.m., and 1p.m. and 4p.m. This can explain that afternoon crash many of us feel. But, this “biological clock” also responds to external cues, and this is where we have the power to develop the right quantity and better-quality sleep!
So, with summer upon us, here are some tips to help you relax into better sleep so you will be refreshed and recharged for next semester.
- Set a bedtime routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, weekends included. Adding a nice relaxing bedtime ritual can also do wonders.
- Establish your best sleeping environment. How?
- Make the bedroom a quiet, dark space. For those who are sensitive to all of the small nightly peeps and creaks, try a white noise machine or white noise app to drown out those intrusive sounds. Remove electronic devices and use low light 30 minutes before bed, but if you must watch that “Game of Thrones” or “American Idol” finale before bed (how can you not?!), try using blue-light blocking glasses. Science is still evaluating the benefits, but these glasses have been shown to block the blue-light which can suppress the melatonin that shifts you into your sleep phase.
- Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the optimal sleep temperature for adults is 60-67 degrees. Body temperature drops as part of sleep initiation and this can assist that process.
- Avoid large meals, too many beverages, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed. Large meals can cause indigestion, too much fluid can keep you up urinating, stimulants can take up to 8 hours to fully wear off, while alcohol has been shown to keep you in lighter stages of sleep, waking you up more often after the calmative effects wear off.
- Get daily exercise. Just try to exercise no later than 2 to 3 hours before bed. The Center for Disease Control suggests 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of high intensity aerobic activity per week. This will not only greatly affect overall health, but has been shown to support sleep.
- Get some sun! Try to get out into natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. and keep all other daily naps under one hour.
- Avoid medications that will disturb sleep close to bedtime. Some common medications or herbal remedies that can affect sleep patterns are heart, blood pressure, asthma, and allergy medications, as well as over-the-counter cough, cold and allergy treatments. Obviously, always follow doctor’s orders with regard to all of these as well.
- Take a hot bath before bed. This can help with relaxation and will also help initiate that drop in body temperature needed for better sleep.
- Do not lie in bed awake for extended periods of time. If you’re having trouble sleeping and find yourself awake more than 20 minutes, try getting up and doing something relaxing since lying there will usually cause more anxiety. Relaxation and meditation podcasts, apps, and Youtube videos are endless! Try putting in some headphones and listening to one of those.
- Finally, keep a sleep diary to track sleep length, routines, and patterns. This can really personalize this process, helping find what works for you. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a downloadable PDF sleep diary to get you started.
One quick note, some of us have true sleeping disorders. Signs of poor sleep include feeling sleepy or tired even after over 7-8 hours, repeatedly waking up at night, and snoring or gasping for air while you sleep. See your doctor if these persist and they should be able to assist you.
Just one good night of sleep can make a world of difference, so now that we have some tools, let’s get horizontal and really recharge our batteries and our bodies this summer!
Keep up with Vaquero Wellness or follow @vaquerowellness on instagram and facebook!