Since we were little, chances are that our parents have always bugged us about getting more sleep. From 7pm bedtimes to afternoon naps, they knew that getting their toddlers and children to sleep would result in their better overall mood, preventing crankiness and tantrums in the grocery store when refused a chocolate bar. However, resistance was usually strong, especially as we grew older; not wanting to miss out on what was happening after our parents sent us to bed.
This is perhaps the biggest reason that 60 percent of adults do not get enough sleep: we do not think it’s worth it. Why sleep when we have 30 more hours of work to do? Why sleep when we could go out partying and having fun with our friends? Why sleep and be judged for being lazy, and miss out on life?
The answer is simple. A lack of rest leads to a compromised conscious life. When we sleep, both our bodies and minds are rejuvenated, reducing chronic inflammation and reducing stress. Only during the late, deep stages of sleep can our bodies relax and prepare to grow and repair our tissue. Our memories replay and our thoughts consolidate, boosting our memory. It is here when hormones like ghrelin and leptin are released, which help us feel hunger and fullness. Because of this, an off balance of these hormones can lead to weight gain. Factoring into this that our late nights are often connected to unhealthy snacking, and it spells out disaster, and studies show that sleeping for only five hours a night increases your risk of being overweight by 73 percent.
However, just being scared of sleep deprivation isn’t enough. There’s a reason that most adults spend 7.5 hours in bed, but only 6.1 hours asleep. Here are a few techniques to fall asleep quickly and get a better nights rest.
1. Step away from the screen.
As loud as that latest episode of Breaking Bad is calling your name, it should wait. Researchers are finding that the artificial light from electronic devices lower levels of the hormone melatonin by an average of 22 percent, disrupting our internal clocks and messing with our natural sleep cycles. At least an hour before bed, stay away from all electronic screens.
2. Grab some almonds.
If you’re hungry, eat! However, shy away from high sugar or very processed foods, which will give you a short energy high and then a crash. Nuts are perfect bedtime snacks, the magnesium will help your muscles relax, and Omega 3s and healthy fats will digest slowly and keep your blood sugar levels stable.
3. Drink some tea.
The warmth of the drink will calm and relax both your body and mind. Make sure you’re staying away from caffeine, instead brewing herbal teas like chamomile, sage, or valerian lemon balm. Herbal teas are theorized to have anti-anxiety and calming effects because of its flavonoid compound, apidenin.
4. Increased sunlight exposure in the daytime.
Especially if you’ve been traveling, it helps to establish a routine, and get your body in time with the sun. Wake up at a reasonable time Increasing your daytime exposure to the sun will regulate the release of melatonin, both a hormone and a powerful antioxidant released when the retina senses the light is low and it is time to sleep.
5. Get comfortable.
This likely goes without saying, but falling asleep when you’re hot, stressed, and hungry is almost impossible. Create an environment that will promote your slumber. A cool, dark, and quiet room is best. Grab that handful of almonds, calm your internal stressors, and avoid staring at the clock, doing the constant math to find the hours of sleep you will get “if I fall asleep in the next five minutes…”
Getting active will help you fall asleep faster and more deeply, simply because you will be more tired. However, because exercise causes the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, causing the brain to go on alert, so it helps to keep the exercise to at least three hours before bed. However, a very mellow yoga or meditation practice right before bed will calm and relax your body. Just stay away from the chaturangas!
7. If you can’t sleep, nap.
Embrace your inner toddler. Instead of being tired and cranky for the rest of the day, take a nap in the morning or right after lunch, to avoid the deep and slow-wave sleep in the late afternoon caused by human circadian rhythms. The original 20 minute power nap has proven to be the most effective, improving muscle memory and clearing the brain of useless information, strengthening the long-term memory, and helping you remember your co-workers names.
Commit to sleeping more. You’ll look better, feel better, and be more productive.