It’s been found that more than one third of all Americans are not getting enough sleep. We live hectic lives and seem to always be on-the-go. According to Business Insider, in 1942, the average individual slept 8 hours — which is now down to 6.8 hours per night.
This is leading to a range of adverse effects — including lost productivity, inability to learn, irritability, headaches, workplace accidents, weight gain, and even an increased risk of heart disease. As stated in a review, published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, sleep deprivation affects blood pressure, metabolism, inflammation, hormone regulation, and blood glucose levels.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, why is that? Have you challenged your current lifestyle?
Avoid These 10 Harmful Sleeping Positions and Habits
We don’t often give it much thought — the complex inner workings of our body and mind. As we go about our day and sleep at night, our brains and body work together, helping you maintain positive health and a high level of functioning. You can enhance your ability to heal and reach the deeper stages of sleep, but you need to be aware of the following.
- Sleeping on your stomach
Many of us are guilty of being stomach sleepers — after all, it is comfortable, right? Unfortunately, experts agree that this position leaves you vulnerable to pain and discomfort. If you often feel like you didn’t sleep well, waking up overly stiff, this may be why. As your stomach is pulled downward, this affects the curvature of your spine.
If you can’t sleep any other way — adjust your body’s position. Instead of stacking pillows, invest in a thinner, more firm option. This will ensure that your neck isn’t propped up too high, allowing for better circulation and a more natural alignment of the spine.
- Going to bed too early
This may seem weird — but it most certainly has merit. Although this tip appears to be counterintuitive, going to bed too early may not allow you to sleep well throughout the night. When you stay up later, you trigger your body’s natural homeostatic system, so when you do lay your head on the pillow, you’re more likely to fall asleep sooner.
For those with insomnia, cognitive-behavioral therapists often start with the individual’s general wake-up time. Say you tend to wake up at 7 AM — use this time to count backward 6-7 hours. Instead of hitting the hay at 10, try adjusting your bedtime to midnight. Keep a journal and document any improvements.
- Not having a wind-down period
Sure, as you grow up, you no longer have a strict ‘bedtime’ — but that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from one. When you get yourself into a routine that encourages sleep, you’ll see that you can naturally enhance sleep patterns and quality. Each night, create a 60-minute routine.
An hour before bed, use that time appropriately. For the first 20 minutes or so, get everything done that you need to before you wind down — walk your dog, make your lunch for work the next day, and finish socializing. For the following 20 minutes, focus on hygiene — getting dressed for bed, brushing your teeth, washing your face, etc. The last 20 minutes should focus on relaxation.
- Using devices before bed
The wind-down period leads to this next tip — avoiding screens too close to the bed. This means your television, tablet, mobile phone, and laptop. If you’re answering emails or doing work, not only are you overstimulating your brain, but you’re also disrupting your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
When the lights go out, your brain begins to release melatonin — a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. When you’re exposed to light, however, this process is disrupted and will reduce your ability to not only fall asleep but stay asleep. This is also why it’s recommended that you do not get up in the middle of the night — as a bathroom light can significantly affect this cycle.
- Watching the clock
When we can’t sleep, we’re all guilty of this — watching the clock, calculating hours in our head. The truth is, as you do this, you’re increasing feelings of stress and anxiety. In turn, cortisol levels rise, making you feel even more alert. If this is an issue for you, remove the clock from your room. Use an alarm clock that’s on your floor, out-of-sight.
- Having a ‘night cap’
Many like to have a drink before bed, helping them relax. Unfortunately, as you sleep, your body begins to metabolize the alcohol, leading to undesirable effects. When you drink before bed, you prevent yourself from reaching the deepest stages of sleep — mainly your REM sleep cycle, which has a negative effect on restorative processes and memory consolidation.
- Treating sleep as an emotional act, not a physical one
Those who suffer from insomnia, often create thoughts that are catastrophic to their sleep cycle. When you wake up and think, I didn’t sleep, you turn sleep into an emotional process when it should be viewed as a physical act. Believing that you slept well, even if you didn’t, can improve brain function.
Within one study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, 164 participants were asked how they slept, before being hooked up to a machine that reported their REM sleep. Regardless of how they slept, those who were told they had above-average REM sleep, performed better on attention and cognitive tasks, in comparison to those who were told they were below average.
- Taking medications
If you’re taking any sort of medication — beta-blockers, alpha-blockers, or even antidepressants, they may be affecting your ability to sleep. Many blood pressure medications, for instance, can decrease the amount of REM sleep one achieves. If you’re taking any of these medications, speak with your doctor about potential alternatives. Better yet, work towards truly treating your condition, not just the related symptoms.
- Not sleeping in the right environment
There are many factors that affect our ability to sleep, including temperature and noise. We’ve already discussed the effects of light, but if you want to improve your sleep environment, promote a comfortable temperature. Of course, extreme temperatures affect one’s ability to sleep, as well as noise pollution. Change whatever factors you can and better manage those you can’t.
- Drinking too much caffeine
Just as medications affect chemicals in your brain, so does caffeine. Known to be the world’s most heavily consumed stimulant, caffeine generally decreases the quality of both slow-wave and REM sleep. This often leads to individuals waking up more frequently. Meaning, you don’t only need to limit your coffee intake, but also your consumption of pop and other caffeinated foods.
There are steps you can take in order to improve your ability to sleep. In many cases, sleep deprivation is a symptom of something else. Work with your body, not against it, and you will most certainly achieve a more beneficial night’s rest.