We know instinctively that getting a good night’s sleep makes one feel calmer, more focused, and brighter, but science is only recently catching up to explain exactly how that happens. From evolutionary perspective, sleep would have to serve a very important function–otherwise it couldn’t justify time spent not obtaining fuel, or lying vulnerable to attacks. Recent research suggests that sleep is the time when your brain clears the cellular waste from its normal functioning during the day. Just as your body drains its waste through the lymphatic system, the brain employs the “glymphatic” system to get rid of daily waste and prepare for another day. If that’s not enough to convince you, people who get less sleep (5.5 hours a night or less) or have irregular sleep patterns have higher risks of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases.
This means–no “brainer”–getting enough sleep is critical to your health. Here are some ways you can get better sleep tonight:
1. Don’t eat or exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime: exercise and food are crucial for good sleep, but they should be done earlier in the day.
2. Try to go to bed at the same time every day–even on weekends: The best way to have healthy sleeping pattern isn’t to get by with 5 hours during the week and then sleep for 12 hours on weekends. Your brain needs to recuperate between 10 pm and 2 am every night, but even if you can’t get to bed at 10 everyday, try to keep it as regular as possible.
3. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual: Turn off all electronics at least half hour before bedtime, and enjoy a quiet, relaxing activity. Some of my favorites: a cup of herbal tea (calming chamomile or other “bedtime” blends), a warm bath, light stretching, and a bit of reading in bed.
4. Sleep on your side: The Better Sleep Council recommends that you sleep on your side, with your knees pulled up toward your chest (fetal position). Roughly 40% of the population sleep in this position that promises least back and neck problems. To support your spine further, try putting a pillow between your legs.
5. If you like sleeping on your back, put a pillow below your knees: Sleeping on your back can actually increase the likelihood of snoring and poor sleep quality. But if you must, try putting a pillow or a rolled towel under your knees to support your spine.
6. Rethink your mattress, sheets, and pillow: The average lifespan of a mattress is 7 years. If you don’t have a pillow top mattress, you should be flipping it over every six months to keep it supportive. You should get new pillows every year. Make sure you have high quality sheets and pillow cases that are smooth, cool, and breathe well.
7. Try aromatherapy: If you still have difficulty falling or staying asleep, try soothing scents like lavender. Add a few drops of the essential oil in a bath, or try candles.
Photo: Brandon Atkinson via Flickr