While we sleep, the body is restored on every level. And we mean every level. Waste material is flushed out of our brains during the REM sleep stage (goodbye Real Housewives episodes!), and the brain is prepared for the next day, forming new pathways to help you remember and learn. This means you’re able to pay attention and make decisions better — a win all around, considering how easy it is to get distracted in a digital age.
Sleep also helps your body physically restore. Ever had a great night of sleep, and then felt like Superwoman? That’s because while you’re snoozing, your body heals and repairs. It goes to work on mending your heart and blood vessels, regulating and balancing hormones, supporting the immune system, and regulating how your body responds to insulin. Essentially, your body is doing the most while you’re sleeping.
But we don’t often notice — until we’ve lost sleep. Without the right amount of sleep, your body starts to show the effects and, over time, take a turn — for the worse. The average person who has an ongoing lack of sleep will start to show chronic negative health problems. From a heightened risk of diabetes to lower immune function, heart disease, and a higher risk of obesity, the list of health troubles are enough to scare you to go to bed by 6pm.
“But I only miss a few hours here and there,” you huff. But a few hours will still do some damage, and you’ll still notice impacts like trouble controlling your mood and emotions, making decisions, paying attention, and experiencing less productivity overall. And these aren’t side effects to brush off; in fact, scientists say that driving drowsy is equally as dangerous as driving drunk.
Before you throw your hands up in resignation because you can’t remember the last time you actually felt well-rested, make sure you’re not unknowingly sabotaging your sleep. One of the most common sleep disruptors is one we all know too well: screen time. But what if your tossing and turning is due to something beyond scrolling Instagram or staying up to binge an entire season of Bridgerton? Maybe we’re grasping at straws here — or maybe we’re just tired. But we beg you to try removing these sneaky disruptors to see how your sleep improves.
Listen, we love a good snooze button moment. But it’s not doing us any favors. While every snooze hit might give you a few extra minutes, they’re not quality, restorative minutes. On top of that, when you fall back asleep, you’re likely starting a new REM cycle. The next time the alarm goes off, you’re right in the middle of your sleep cycle — which is the worst part to wake up in. Instead of feeling rested, you’ll feel drowsy and foggy. Plus, you’re confusing your body: Usually, your internal body clock is ready to wake when your alarm goes off. But when you go back to sleep for 30 minutes or more, your body is unsure when it’s time to wake up or go to sleep — and your entire circadian rhythm is thrown off. Enter: Tossing and turning the next night.
Are you unwinding before bed? And no, episodes of the Bachelor do not count — sorry! Taking the time to slow your body down before bed is about as necessary as it is for a Boeing 777 to have a long runway to land. Read: Of the utmost necessity. Try creating a wind-down ritual with calming activities, like reading or a cup of tea (make sure it’s non-caffeinated!), about 30-45 minutes before bedtime so your body and mind know when it’s time to slow down for sleep.
Your sleep relationship doesn’t just start at 11pm every night. Nope, this is a committed relationship — the kind where you have to think about checking in during the day. That means looking at your daytime habits through the lens of sleep. Are you drinking caffeine in the afternoon? You’re cheating on your sleep: Not only does caffeine block the neurotransmitter adenosine, which calms you and helps you fall asleep, but it has a half-life of up to 8 hours. Are you exercising enough, or at the right time? Getting 20-30 minutes of exercise a day has been linked to better quality sleep — but working out before bed is a no-go for most, because it revs up the autonomic nervous system. If you are a night exerciser, make sure it’s before dinner time.
Remember the adage, “Never say ‘I can’t.’ Always say ‘I’ll try”’? The same applies for sleeping. At its core, that saying speaks to the power of words and how they affect our mind and outlook. If you’re trying to fall asleep thinking about how you’ll never fall asleep — well, chances are you’ll actually not be able to sleep. And the mind doesn’t know the difference between the real and the imagined — only what we tell it. So instead of mentally noting you’re having trouble falling asleep, try instead to reframe it by telling yourself you’re falling asleep at a slower pace tonight. Or try imagining you’re sleeping to trick your brain (Mr. Rogers was definitely on to something here)!
The good news is that you’re not doomed to a sleepless life if you don’t want to be. Making small changes to our habits can help us develop a more positive relationship with sleep.
If you’re comfy, you’ll sleep much better. Make sure your room is quiet, dark, and cool — and your mattress and bedding are something you actually want to sink into.
Avoid screens 30 minutes before bed, dim the lights, and try a pair of blue-light blocking glasses.
Your circadian clock will thank you, and it will be easier to fall asleep. Need some help? Try this natural daylight clock that wakes you up gradually.
We’re not just talking any kind of music here — though we do love a good smooth jazz wind down. We’re talking binaural beats. Binaural beats combine two different sound frequencies to create the sound of a new frequency tone, creating a slow-down in brain activity. Hello to relaxation, reduced anxiety, and — yep, deep sleep. Intrigued? Try searching for binaural beats on Spotify or Youtube.