“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
So many people are looking for that "magic pill" that will take all of their stresses and worries away. Ideally, this pill should fix things. It should make life better — easier, happier, and more enjoyable overall.
Many people seek this pill in the form of a new relationship, a better job, an improved physique, or even an actual medication or drug. And while some of these solutions certainly may work to better your life, what if you had an even better “magic pill” right in front of you? A full-proof, cures everything, 100% free, available in unlimited supply, all-natural magic pill.
Of course, this pill does exist. And its name is sleep.
If you think this sounds too simple, think again! Sleep is nature’s remedy for nearly everything that ails us as humans. At the same time that it is critical to our physical health, it is also crucial to our emotional and mental health. People who get enough sleep on a regular basis are healthier, happier, and better adjusted.
Sleep addresses nearly every one of life’s potential issues, yet is also one of the most overlooked and uncultivated habits for most people.
While sleep experts tout the indisputable importance of getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, an astonishing 35% of Americans get less than that on a regular basis.
In a way, this is perfectly understandable. You don’t have to sleep to get through the day, after all. It’s possible to eek by on a few hours here and there. The point is, however, that getting through the day is almost always easier, less-stressful, and overall more enjoyable when you’ve had enough sleep. Furthermore, in the long-term, better sleep has been scientifically proven to help you live a longer, healthier, happier life.
So how do you do it? How can you sleep better?
It all starts with developing and cultivating better sleep hygiene.
Just as we all must take care of our physical hygiene, dental hygiene, and home hygiene, we also must take care of our sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene can be defined as healthy habits and behaviors that, when combined, contribute to more and better sleep on a regular basis. These healthy sleep habits may include things like setting a bedtime, keeping digital devices out of the bedroom, and keeping a sleep diary. While your individual sleep habits may vary, there are many standard sleep habits that nearly all good sleep hygiene routines will benefit from.
Poor sleep on a regular basis can be defined as sleep deprivation. While this is not a unique disease with specific symptoms, it is a general state of being that can have negative ramifications to your overall health and well-being.
Essentially, the disorder of sleep deprivation refers to the state caused by not getting enough sleep for many nights in a row or for many nights within a set period of time — for example, within a month’s time.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Experts at The National Sleep Foundation recommend that those aged 18 to 64 get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Those over the age of 64 may need less sleep, but only by a small amount. The recommended sleep amount for these individuals is seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
Children also require more sleep than those 18 and over. Preschoolers aged three to five should get between 10 and 13 hours of sleep each night. School age children between six and 13 should get nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. And Teens aged 14 to 17 should get between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night.
Babies (especially newborns) will generally sleep for most of a 24-hour period. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep limits for babies and toddlers:
With good sleep habits, you should be getting the recommended amount of sleep every night on a regular basis. If you miss one or two nights here and there, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have poor sleep hygiene. But if you rarely, if ever, get enough sleep or if you have trouble staying asleep and end up tossing and turning for long periods of time on a frequent basis, you may want to look at your sleep habits more closely.
Specifically, here are several signs that you may need to improve your sleep habits:
Causes of poor sleep can be both unavoidable and avoidable. However, most of the time, poor sleep hygiene is something you can fix or improve with a few simple changes to your routine and habits.
Let’s go through some of the most common avoidable and unavoidable reasons for poor sleep hygiene below.
Avoidable Reasons for Poor Sleep Hygiene
Mostly Unavoidable Reasons for Poor Sleep Hygiene
Do you think you may have poor sleep hygiene and be sleep deprived? Learn more about sleep deprivation and the science of sleep ahead, or skip to the end of this page and go directly to the “Healthy Habits = Healthy Sleep: How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene” section. Here, you can learn how to improve your sleep habits for better sleep as soon as tonight.
All mammals sleep. And for all mammals, including humans, sleep is absolutely essential. Of this, scientists, researchers, and doctors all agree.
However, there are still a lot of mysteries about sleep and why exactly it’s such an important part of our lives. After all, every one of us will spend approximately one-third of our lives … asleep.
For several centuries, sleep was known to be important to humans, but was basically thought of as a time where we got to “rest” and our minds and bodies essentially “shut off.” While it’s true that our bodies do, in a sense, “shut off” during sleep (in that they don’t really move), it’s since been debunked that our minds are not active during sleep.
Quite the contrary, in fact. It has actually been found that our brains are often just as active during sleep as they are in our waking lives. So, what are our brains actually doing during sleep, and what is sleep really for?
Part of the reason that these are such difficult questions to answer lies in the fact that you cannot deprive someone completely of sleep in order to study what happens to them without it. Not only would this be cruel and unusual, but it’s also virtually impossible.
For this reason, scientists and researchers looking at sleep must rely on other study methods in their efforts to answer this often-complex question. Below, we dive into a few of the strongest and most-compelling theories surrounding the reasons why we sleep. Several of these theories have essentially been accepted by the majority of doctors and other experts, but some aspects have still neither been proven or disproven.
There is no doubt that sleep plays a critical role in the function of our brains as well as numerous other systems, including the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, and more. However, questions about the evolution of sleep as a necessity remain. Here are three theories that experts have about why we sleep.
The Brain Plasticity Theory
This is one of the most recent theories about sleep. Essentially, it posits that we must sleep so that our brains have time to reorganize and restructure. The theory centers around brain plasticity, which is the brain's ability to develop and change over time. This used to only be applied to newborns, infants, and small children who were obviously using sleep time to develop their young brains into adult brains. Today, however, scientists believe that adult brains are "plastic" and can change as well.
The Repair, Rejuvenation, and Restoration Theory
This theory posits that during sleep, our bodies repair themselves and restore things that are lost during our waking life. For example, byproducts produced in the brain can build up during the day; however, they can be flushed out at night during sleep. Specifically, a cell-produced byproduct called adenosine, which is made in the brain, can be cleared during sleep. This causes you to feel more alert and awake in the morning.
The Energy Conservation Theory
For most people in the world today, there aren't worries about not having enough to eat. This wasn't always the case, however. Long ago, humans and other mammals had to have adequate food sources in order to supply their bodies with enough energy. Because this could oftentimes be a challenge, there is a theory that sleep was meant to be a period of regular inactivity, during which the need for energy/food would decrease significantly. In times of sparse nourishment, this was meant to help regulate and conserve energy resources.
Above, we described sleep deprivation as “poor sleep on a regular basis” (less than seven hours a night).
The peculiar thing about sleep deprivation is, again, that it’s not a specific illness. While it can be diagnosed, it doesn’t have a specific set of symptoms and effects. On the other hand, you’ll be able to see the negative effects of sleep deprivation quite clearly if they happen to you.
This is another way to explain why we sleep. We’ve already touched on the fact that it's virtually impossible to know for sure why we sleep. However, researchers and scientists can look at what happens if people don't get enough sleep and make assertions from there.
Sleep deprivation has both short-term signs and symptoms and long-term effects.
Top Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
If you are concerned that you're not getting enough sleep, it may be a good idea to examine your own behaviors and try to notice any of the following symptoms of sleep deprivation. Additionally, if you are concerned that your child or teenager isn't getting enough sleep, look for the same symptoms.
Short-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation
In the short-term, after just one or two “sleepless night,” you may notice the following effects:
Long-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Long-term, the consequences of sleep deprivation are more dire and can continue to get worse. You may notice the following effects of sleep deprivation if you go for weeks, months, or years in a sleep-deprived state:
Disease and Sleep
Research has shown that most people with insomnia also have at least one additional health condition. Insomnia and other sleep disorders may be a cause of these health conditions, and/or the other health conditions may be a cause of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
The most common physical diseases associated with sleep deprivation are:
Anyone can improve their sleep hygiene, and healthy sleep habits come in many forms. It’s crucial to find what works for you.
Below, we go over some of the basic tenets of improving your sleep as well as a few specific suggestions for making your bedtime and sleep routines more enjoyable and effective.
The following is a list of basic tenets for better sleep, before we get into specific tips and suggestions.1. It’s important to make sleep a priority in your life.
First, remember that you have to make sleep a priority. It is true that you can't get by in life without sleeping, but there's a lot of wiggle room too. Lots of people think they can run on four or five hours of sleep a night and it won’t be a problem. Don't allow yourself this wiggle room. Make getting at least seven hours of sleep each night a priority for your overall health and well-being.2. You must figure out how much sleep you need.
Above, we outlined the recommended amounts of sleep for different ages of people. However, it must also be noted that it's not uncommon for individuals to actually need varying amounts of sleep, depending on their genetics, lifestyle, and other behaviors. We tell you how to know how much sleep you optimally need below when we discuss keeping a sleep diary.3. Avoid being a “weekend warrior” when it comes to sleep.
In other words, if you tend to lose sleep during the week, don’t try to make it all up on the weekends. Sleep doesn’t really work like that.
While it’s okay to go to bed early or sleep in to catch a few extra “Zzzs” on the weekends, you shouldn’t rely on this additional sleep time as a “makeup” for lost sleep Monday through Friday.4. Remember that the “best sleepers” invest in their sleep.
So many people take sleep for granted — and it’s certainly easy to do. But if you want to improve your sleep hygiene, it’s critical to invest some time, energy, and money into your sleep routine.
The good news is you can have some fun with it!
Spend time creating a bedtime routine that works for you. Buy some comfy pajamas and bedsheets. Create a sleep playlist. The sky’s the limit when it comes to developing better sleep habits. We’ll have more related tips for doing this below.
A Note on Screens and Sleep
In this day and age, everyone seems to have a smart phone, and many people also have a tablet device and a computer in their possession. These devices are used all the time, and other home digital devices like personal assistants, televisions, and more cause us to be staring at screens and using technology virtually all the time.
Technology is undoubtedly helpful in many ways; however, it can also be a detriment to our health when it interferes with sleep.
Sleep experts, doctors, and other health practitioners advise keeping technological devices — and especially those with screens like smart phones and tablets — out of the bedroom altogether. The light from these screens has been proven to tell your brain that it's daytime and that you should stay awake, which can contribute to difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep.
To help yourself understand how much sleep you personally need, try keeping a sleep diary. Write down when you go to bed each night and when you wake up each morning for at least a month. Beside each day, write whether or not you had a decent night of sleep (did you toss and turn or get up multiple times?), and also write down how you felt throughout the day.
At the end of the month, look at your sleep diary to examine any patterns that can help you understand the optimal number of sleep hours you should be getting each night.2. Try meditation during the day to improve your sleep at night.
Meditation can help you sleep better because it mimics sleep in many ways. If you've never meditated before, the basic practice of sitting meditation has you sitting still, yet alert in a static position for a set period of time. During this period, one of the focuses is often to concentrate on your breath, calm the mind, and intentionally try to notice the sensations and physiological changes that are happening in your body and around you from moment to moment.
During meditation, research has shown that practitioners’ blood pressure drops, their pulse slows down, stress hormones decrease, and breathing slows as well. All of these things contribute to a calmer physical, mental, and emotional state. This state can resonate for the rest of the day and into the evening when it's time to go to bed. In fact, you might think of meditation as practice for sleep.3. Introduce yourself to Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra is a meditative and yogic practice that helps you achieve a deep level of relaxation. The level of relaxation is so deep, in fact, that it puts you on the brink of sleep, without actually tipping you over into sleep. Yoga nature is best practiced with guided meditation by a professional teacher; however, you can also listen to recorded audio of guided meditation to assist you in achieving this state.
Many people use Yoga Nidra to help them sleep better because it gets you so close to sleep. These individuals will often allow themselves to pass through the Yoga Nidra relaxation state into sleep. Alternatively, the practice can be carried out on a regular basis during the day, and its long-term effects can help you sleep better.4. Optimize your sleep environment.
Investing in your sleep environment can be a great way to improve your sleep. It can also be fun. You can optimize your sleep environment by removing digital devices, creating a nice sense of soft light at your bedside, improving the smell with essential oils or other scents, and getting cozy and comfy sheets and pajamas. Making your sleep environment more comfortable simply makes sleeping more enjoyable.
5. Build a sleep routine.
You should start getting ready for bed at least 30 minutes before your desired bedtime. During this time, you should have a routine that helps you "wind down." For example, you might start by putting on your pajamas, turning the lights down low, putting on some soft music, and reading a book or listening to a guided meditation. This routine can help tell your brain that you'll be going to bed soon instead of abruptly shutting off the lights all at once and expecting your body to go to sleep.6. Beware careful with naps.
Sometimes, naps are great. Other times, they can be disruptive. It’s always best to avoid naps when you can because the minimal seven hours of sleep you require should be carried out all at once for optimal health.
A: Essentially, sleep deprivation occurs when an individual is unable to get enough sleep because of poor sleep hygiene habits or unavoidable circumstances (like having a newborn in the house or simply ignoring a healthy bedtime). On the other hand, insomnia refers to an actual inability to sleep. Often times, insomnia is caused or exacerbated by a medical condition or a meditation.
Some of the most common medical situations that may cause insomnia include:
Whereas someone who has sleep deprivation will usually be able to get better sleep each night if they simply make a few lifestyle changes, someone with insomnia may be unable to achieve the same level of sleep despite doing everything right in terms of their sleep hygiene. In these cases, it is best to seek professional medical help to improve your insomnia. Otherwise, you run the risk of additional serious health problems caused by lack of sleep.
A: Kids and teens require a bedtime routine just as adults do. Fortunately for children and teenagers, they don't have to create these routines for themselves; however, as a parent, this is a job you must take on.
For starters, set bedtimes for each of your children. Younger children require more sleep and, therefore, should go to bed earlier than teenagers. It's wise to have a policy of keeping devices like smart phones, televisions, and tablets out of the bedroom at night. Also remind your children that their beds should only be used for sleeping and not for studying, reading, or using the computer.
A: It is almost a sure thing that after you have a baby, you're going to lose sleep while they are a newborn. The good news is, this stage doesn't last forever.. To help you better manage this period of sleeplessness, try the following tips:
- Trade-off when it comes to nightly diaper changes and feedings (when possible)
- Catch a nap whenever you can
- Make up for lost sleep whenever you can
- Get help from friends and family
New parents (and especially moms who breastfeed) may find these first few months (or indeed, years) of their children’s lives challenging. While this is to be expected, it’s also essential to make sure they’re taking care of themselves by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and making time for their own hobbies and interests. The other sleep tips above — including practices like Yoga Nidra, meditation, and mindfulness — can help tremendously.
Everyone’s bedtime rituals will inevitably be unique to the individual. However, it’s still important to remember that there are several healthy sleep habits, proven to provide results.
Start with these. Follow the guidelines and suggestions listed above, and add other healthy sleep habits that appeal to you as you see fit. Over time, you’ll begin to see the profound difference that getting enough sleep can have on your health and wellbeing.