Did you know that sleep is one of the most important things in our lives? It’s as important as food and oxygen. And still a lot of people don’t get enough of it, including me.. 😐 Getting enough sleep benefits us in so many ways, but still a lot of people find other things more important than sleep. For me, it comes down to having too much to do, and being afraid of not falling asleep. I really need to turn things around. So, I wanted to make a post for you guys, but also for myself (read about my sleep adventures here). To be honest, after writing this, I’m very motivated to make a change. There are a lot of causes for sleeplessness, but I’m not going into that today. This post is for the people who, like me, can improve a lot of things to live a healthier and happier life.
✨ The purpose of sleep ✨
We need an average of 8 hours of sleep a night. While you fall asleep, your brain goes through 4 different stages of sleep before you go into REM sleep. You generally enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep 90 minutes after falling asleep, and each REM sleep can last up to 1 hour. An average adult has 5 to 6 REM cycles each night. This is the phase in which your brain becomes active.
This is also when most dreaming occurs. At this stage, your brain sends a message to turn off motor neurons, which paralyzes you. Which is a good thing, because it prevents you from kicking or otherwise physically acting out your dreams1.
If you want to know more about how different parts of your brain fulfill different functions, check out this article. It’s very interesting!
During REM sleep, your brain will process all information from the day before so that it can be stored in your long-term memory. In other words, your REM sleep is very important for learning and storing information and memories1.
Sleep restores your energy. This is why you get so hungry when you haven’t had enough sleep; your body tries to make up for the lack of energy by demanding food. This is also why you easily gain weight if you don’t get enough sleep, because your body will ask for high-calorie, quick-energy foods1. I don’t get why this isn’t enough motivation for me to sleep better.. I convince myself that I burn more calories when I sleep less and therefore don’t gain weight, but this is proven not to be true!
Healing your body
Sleep heals your body, more than food. Your brain releases hormones that encourage tissue growth, which help you recover from injuries like wounds or muscle pain. Sleep also boosts your immune system; during sleep, you make more white blood cells that attack viruses and bacteria2.
According to this study, cerebral spinal fluid is pumped more quickly throughout the brain while you sleep, which ‘cleans’ your brain. For example, it cleans up toxic proteins that cause dementia over time.
✨ The benefits of sleeping well ✨
So, if you get enough sleep and your sleep is of good quality, you’ll wake up with restored energy and a clean brain. This benefits a lot of brain functions that you need throughout the day.
💪 Muscle memory
You’ll get better at tasks that involve coordination. Just as your brain stores all information of that day, it also stores information about muscles you used. So you’ll get better at driving, dancing, and sports when you sleep well1. This makes a lot of sense and is clearly the reason why I suck at remembering dance moves in ballet class at the moment.
You’ll be more creative. Creativity is all about making connections. When you sleep, your brain makes all kinds of connections, probably related to things you experienced the day before. Think about how you can have crazy weird dreams with random people in it at random places. This is your brain making connections. If you’ve slept well, your brain will be better at making connections1,3.
🧠 Better brain functions
All kinds of brain functions perform better when you are well rested. For example, you’ll be better at making decisions. This has everything to do with cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to change our thinking based on new information4. You can also think and respond faster and with fewer mistakes. This is probably because neurons can repair themselves at night. You’ll be better at concentrating, problem-solving, and remembering stuff5.
🛌 The reason for a lack of sleep 🛌
Well, this is all awesome! But the reality is different. According to the study mentioned here, more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Given the fact that at least 7 hours of sleep is considered healthy, we can conclude that a lot of people are unhealthy sleepers. And we know it! So what makes that we don’t sleep enough?
There are quite some sleep disorders that are the cause of a lack of sleep. It must be terrible to suffer from this.. 🙁 However, I will skip these for now, because the purpose of this post is to provide tips to change certain behavior that leads to a lack of sleep. Accept for Insomnia. This condition can be caused by a lot of things, varying from illnesses to medicins to lifestyle habits. I will, of course, discuss the latter. This is what I came up with.
The #1 culprit: phones
The main reason for a lack of sleep these days is probably using our phones before bedtime. I think this is a much bigger problem than most of us realize. A study proved that the use of smartphones significantly reduces your quality of sleep. They found that the participants who spent more time on their smartphones, especially during bedtime hours, slept fewer hours, slept less efficiently, and took more time to fall asleep. And this is huge. Because poor sleep is often a risk factor for serious illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and depression. We are supposed to release melatonin when it’s time for sleep. This hormone helps to shut us down. But the blue light that comes from your phone suppresses melatonin production and therefore keeps you awake7. Also, the floods of information you have to process keep your brain active.
Watch this, it explains in 2 minutes how we are making ourselves sick.. 🙁
I’m afraid we’re going to be a generation with serious health issues due to this. Watching tv and playing video games before bedtime has also been proven to reduce your quality of sleep, but I think a phone is worse; it’s in your face and the amount of information that you have to process is insane.
Sometimes your brain just won’t shut up. You can’t help but think about a thousand things, and your own thinking keeps you awake, whether you want it or not. This is probably caused by stress, depression or anxiety. If you experience a lot of stress for whatever reason, the part of your brain that is responsible for the fight/flight response is activated, and in this state, you can’t sleep. And it’s a downward spiral; worrying causes lack of sleep, and a lack of sleep causes stress and therefore worrying8.
A bad sleeping rhythm
There are multiple reasons for not having a healthy sleeping rhythm. Maybe you have to work night shifts or maybe you don’t sleep well, sleep in, and end up in a cycle of not sleeping at night and then sleeping in till noon. Whatever the reason, a bad sleeping rhythm is not ok, people. According to this study, an irregular sleep schedule results in a bad quality of sleep. Not good.
You fear sleep
If you are plagued by nightmares on a regular basis, it’s logical that you don’t like to go to bed. I often postpone my bedtime until I can’t stay awake anymore, so I limit the time that I need to fall asleep. I don’t have nightmares that often, but I get plagued by thoughts the minute I close my eyes. However, staying up isn’t a solution of course. But there are definitely things you can do to make it better! More later.
You can’t sleep
If you just can’t fall asleep and it’s not because of any of the things mentioned above, it could be because you ate a lot of food, or drank alcohol or coffee before bedtime. If you’re not sleeping very well, these are the things you should avoid. Insead you could drink tea (which even benefits sleep), or eat something light if you really crave food.
👎 The effects of bad sleeping 👎
So here’s the bad news. It’s really bad. But really. If you don’t get the (quality of) sleep you need on a regular basis, the following will happen9,10,11,12,13,14.
- The performance of your brain will decrease. Your brain works slower, your brain lacks creativity, your decision-making skills decrease. You’ll have an increased risk of mistakes and accidents. You will have a poor memory and difficulty focusing, and learning becomes harder.
- It can lead to irritation, anxiety and depression. You will experience daytime sleepiness, tiredness and lethargy. It directly impacts your immune system, so your body’s ability to fight diseases decreases. It slows down tissue growth, so it will slow down wound healing, but also the healing of injuries. And, it can cause chronic health problems such as headaches, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- You will crave unhealthy foods which can lead to weight gain. And on top of this, most of these effects can lead to more sleeplessness.
So there you go. I now kind of wonder how many of my current health issues are actually caused by the quality of my sleep.. 😐
👍 How to make it better 👍
If you are the kind of person who has it all figured out when it comes down to sleep, you now know that you have to keep it that way. But if your sleeping pattern is a mess, like mine, pay attention. Here is a list of things you can do to turn things around!
📱 No-brainer: stop using your phone before you go to bed
Instead, stop using it at least an hour before you go to bed, and do something else. One of the best things you can do in my opinion, is reading a book in dim light, in your bed. It will get your brain ready for sleep, and when it’s time to go to sleep, you are already in your bed. I think watching tv is alright and not that bad. I think watching tv before you go to bed can make you sleepy as well, and I think a tv screen is by far not as bad as the screen of a phone. Again, I would recommend watching tv in bed after you’ve done your bedtime rituals. As soon as you get tired, turn it off, and voila: you sleep! But still, I think a book is better.
🐚 Reduce stress, especially before bedtime
This is often easier said than done, but you can always do things to make it at least better. Of course, the best way to reduce stress is by getting rid of the things that cause stress, but this is not always possible. However, if your job is a great stress factor, you could ask yourself if this is the right place to be for you. If you are an extremely busy person, consider letting go of some things. Not everything you do is necessary and your health is more important.
Other ways to reduce stress are: exercise or walking (but not before bedtime), drinking tea before bed, taking a shower, reading, listening to music, doing yoga, journaling, cuddling a pet, do something that makes you laugh (like watching a comedy). And last but not least: get yourself into an upward spiral of good sleep. 🙂
🌜 Keep your day active and your nights steady
You need to learn your brain the difference between day and night. So be active during the day and find your rest in the evening. Don’t drink coffee or alcohol late in the evening, and don’t eat meals close to bedtime. And one of the most important things: make sure you have a steady sleeping rhythm (this one is for me). So go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time every morning, whether you have to go to work or not. I’m not sure if I can pull this off, but this is considered the best rhythm.
⏰ Don’t snooze
I recently found out that snoozing is a very bad thing. I searched for information about this because my hub likes to snooze 45 minutes before he gets up, but he is always tired. And it’s even worse than I thought; snoozing messes up your entire sleeping rhythm and effects the rest of your day. “Hitting the snooze button and falling back asleep triggers a response in your brain that essentially says, “Well, time to kick my shoes back off and settle in for another sleep cycle.” Except it’s not a sleep cycle. It’s 10 minutes. Your next alarm wakes you up as your body is starting a new cycle, which is basically the worst time to wake up. You’re confusing your brain and body. You’re better off getting up with your first alarm”15.
💊 If all of these things don’t work: pills
If you’ve tried everything but you still have trouble sleeping, I recommend you try meds. Meds are not the first thing you wanna try and they are not the best solution, but if it helps you to sleep better, they are worth it. Sleep is that important.
Let’s try our best! Sleep is crucial.
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Images from Pexels and Unsplash;
In chronological order: Noah Erickson, Min An, Niklas Hamann, Gabriel, AlamaCreative.
Drawing by myself.
1: What your brain does during sleep
2: The Healing Power of Sleep
3: How sleep makes your brain more creative
4: Sleep Deprivation Takes Toll on Decision Making
5: Boost Brain Health: How Sleep Impacts Your Brain Functions
7: Smartphones Impact On Sleep Cycle: Dangers Of Phone Screens Before Bedtime
8: What to Do When Worrying Keeps You Awake
9: Sleep and creativity
10: How Do Sleeplessness and Insomnia Sabotage Decision Making?
11: This is why your brain feels all foggy when you’re sleep deprived
12: Why sleep is important
13: Why is sleep important?
14: How Sleep Deprivation Negatively Impacts Wound Healing
15: Why ‘snoozing’ in the morning is bad for your health, according to science