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Sleep Science: What Really Works for Better Sleep

With the host of commitments most of us have, sleep is still underrated as a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. A night of little to no sleep, or restless sleep, can you make you feel irritable, unfocused, and like you are dragging yourself through the day. But there’s more going on in your body and brain when you miss sleep than you may realize.

Decision making skills are degraded by poor sleep, and it can lead to poor dietary choices too. Plus poor sleep has been linked toback pain, lowered immunity, weight gain,skin issues, and more. There are plenty of reasons we don’t get enough sleep, from indigestion toanxiety, or simply having too much on your plate and not enough time for proper sleep. Sleep problems may sometimes stem from health issues as well. However, for most, taking the right steps to improve sleep habits is all that’s needed to get us back on track. 

First a little background on why sleep is so important, how much you need each night, and how you may be able to tell if your sleep problems are part of a more serious health conditions.

Why do we need all that sleep?

Sleep is often an afterthought or an inconvenience in a busy schedule. However, there is no getting around it, the body needs sleep for many important processes. When you sleep, your body restores or reboots processes like muscle growth, tissue repair, and hormone release, to name just a few.

Proper sleep is also critical to memory functions in the brain and reducing risk ofhigh blood pressure,diabetes,depression, and obesity. Without enough sleep, especially over time, the immune system weakens, making us prone to illness or infection.

How much sleep do you need each night?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep every night. And it's not just theamount of sleep you get each night, but thequality of sleep. If you find yourself sleeping seven or more hours per night, but still waking up tired, then your sleep quality may not be great. You may be waking up frequently in the night, or tossing and turning a lot, or never reaching the deepest level of rest.

While better sleep tips, like the ones listed below, help most peopleimprove sleep quality, some sleep problems may indicate an underlying health issue.

Sleep problems that may indicate a health issue

Some sleep problems stem from medical issues that need attention beyond better sleep habits. Common medical causes of sleep issues include:

  • Heartburn, which can become worse when lying down, especially after a fatty, greasy, or heavy meal. This is becausethis condition involves the backup of stomach acid into the esophagus, in turn causing heartburn pain, coughing, and/or choking. And these symptoms can obviously keep you up at night, leading to poor sleep quality.
  • Diabetes can lead to frequent urination throughout the day and night as well as night sweats or lowblood sugar. These symptoms can make it hard to sleep well through the night.
  • Muscle or joint disorders like arthritis orfibromyalgia can cause pain that, when untreated, can make it harder to sleep through the night.
  • Kidney disease can cause waste products to build up in the blood which in turn can lead to sleep problems like insomnia and restless legs syndrome.
  • Thyroid conditions likehypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) orhyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can cause cold chills or night sweats, respectively. These symptoms can make it hard to fall asleep.
  • Breathing problems like sleep apnea can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. This is quite common. Sleep apnea occurs when your breath stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. When this happens, your body doesn’t receive adequate oxygen at night. This can lead to you feeling very tired when you wake up, almost as if you didn’t sleep at all. If you think you might have sleep apnea, be sure to ask your doctor. You can have a sleep study done to check your breathing patterns during sleep to determine if you have it.

If you suspect you may have one or more of the above conditions, please don’t hesitate to visit your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Simple blood tests, outpatient studies, or annual check-ups can identify many of these conditions. Once identified, you can better manage the condition(s) you have, and your sleep patterns should improve, which will improve your overall quality of life! Whether you have an underlying condition affecting your sleep or just lifestyle habits that need adjusting, the following tips should help you sleep better!

Tips to help you sleep better

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day and night helps regulate your circadian rhythms — the body’s mechanism for telling you when to sleep, wake, and eat. Over time, this can greatly improve your sleep.
  • Exercise daily. Bymoving more each day, you expend energy that can make it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Plus, exercise is super important for your overall health.
  • Wind down in the evening. About an hour before bedtime, be sure to turn off screens that give off bright light, grab a cup of hot tea, and read a book (either an actual book, or a reading device without blue light). These small actions can help your brain and body prepare itself for rest.
  • Make sure you have comfortable bedding. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night or waking up with aches and pains that don’t have a medical cause, it may be your bedding. Be sure to replace your mattress every ten years and pillows every 18 months.

Besides these common sleep habits, there are a few lesser known natural tips for helping you get as much quality sleep as possible. Try a few of the following:

  • Diffuse lavender before bedtime. Multiple studies show that diffusing lavender essential oil can help reduce anxiety and improve duration and quality of sleep.
  • Try an app to help improve your sleep. A 2019 study found that using an app, such as theSleep Ninja app can help improve sleep quality over time. This app contains a sleep tracking function, recommended bedtimes based on sleep guidelines, reminders to start a wind-down routine each night, and a series of sleep tips. 
  • Think more positively. You may wonder how the way you think can help you sleep better, but a recent study found that those people who had a tendency to think positively experienced less insomnia and had less worry and wandering thoughts keeping them awake at night.Stress management techniques like therapy,yoga, orrelaxation breathing can help you learn to see things more positively, and in turn, can help improve your sleep.
  • Add a natural sleep supplement. The right daily sleep supplement can help improve sleep quality. New natural clinically studied ingredients likebioactive milk peptides can help reduce stress and cortisol levels, in turn inducing a calming and relaxing effect, and better sleep. Also, asupplement containing 4.5 mg of melatonin per serving (not more or less), a natural sleep hormone, can help better regulate your sleep-wake cycle. 

Bottom Line

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it can impact many areas of your life. Not sleeping enough can lead tomental confusion andfatigue,lower energy levels, less motivation to exercise, negative moods, and more serious chronic health issues.  

This is why it’s so important to nip sleep problems in the bud. If natural ways of inducing sleep aren’t working, be sure to see a qualified healthcare professional right away to have testing done for potential sleep disorders. The sooner you work on improving your sleep, the better you’ll feel in all areas of your life.

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