We live in an always-on world. Burning the midnight oil is a common occurrence and for many staying up until 2 am watching Netflix or spending hours scrolling through Instagram each night is part of everyday life.
Although we’ve been told for years about the benefits of getting enough sleep, it seems that many across the world are still putting sleep on the back burner.
Yet, why is this happening? For many people, they don’t realize that losing an hour of sleep here or there can have negative impacts on their bodies. They may sleep for 5 hours, get up the next day and still be able to function relatively well. So, they believe that that is all the sleep they need and the cycle continues. Because we can always catch up and sleep in on the weekends, right?
While there will be situations out of your control that will lead you to lose out on sleep such as having a newborn baby, having jet lag or being ill, continuing to practice poor sleep hygiene on a continuous basis will catch up with you and bring with it sleep debt. Plus, many serious consequences.
Practicing correct sleep hygiene has long been advised by health practitioners. This includes getting the recommended 7 - 9 hours of sleep each night, plus setting up a sleep environment that fosters beneficial sleep habits.
But what exactly are the implications of ignoring good sleep hygiene?
Lack of essential sleep means more than just feeling tired the next day. Without sleeping the recommended amount for an adult, our bodies are not able to achieve the restorative state needed in order to function optimally the following day.
Over a long period of time, this has been known to lead to other medical conditions such as memory loss, hypertension, weight gain, and weakened immune system.
Sleep deprivation alters brain function by decreasing performance levels, memory retention and overall, impairing our judgement. The reason that this happens is due to our brains relying on sleep in order to carry out tasks such as removing toxins, consolidating long-term memory and improving our ability to multi-task.
This means poor sleep quality on a regular basis will inevitably lead to an individual experiencing slower reaction times. Also, don’t be surprised if this also creates difficulty with making decisions, poor concentration levels and the inability to retain new information.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is very common among those who don’t achieve a healthy sleep schedule.
Our cardiovascular systems need to enter deep sleep on a regular basis in order to reboot itself. During REM sleep, our bodies produce an equivalent to blood pressure medication which allows the heart rate to drop and blood pressure to lower. Those who are sleep deprived experience higher blood pressure levels and in some cases, develop cardiovascular disease.
According to some research studies, poor sleep hygiene also leads to a weaker immune system.
As sleep is necessary for overall health, not receiving enough sleep means that our bodies are more at risk of picking up illnesses and viruses such as the common cold. Have you ever gone through a period of sleepless nights? Did you wake up feeling more run-down than usual? This is normal.
Without adequate sleep each night, our bodies don’t have the opportunity to produce the protein cytokine, This protein is necessary to fight off infection and counteract the effects of stress. Over time, a lack of sleep inevitably means that our bodies can’t produce the antibodies needed to keep us in optimal health.
If you have been struggling to practice adequate sleep hygiene, there are ways to get your sleep pattern back on track.
When it comes to reversing bad sleep habits, it all comes down to making the right lifestyle changes, cultivating a healthy sleep routine, the right sleep environment and most importantly, consistency.
Avoid Stimulants - You can improve sleep quality naturally by cutting down on caffeine intake and avoiding too much digital screen time. Both of these act as a stimulant for our brains and make it harder for us to wind down at the end of the day. Make sure to avoid all caffeinated drinks up to six hours before going to bed and stop screen at least one hour before going to sleep.
Have A Pre-Sleep Routine - Creating a routine before bed helps our bodies prepare for going to sleep. Try winding down by drinking herbal tea, having a warm bath, reading a book, meditating or reflecting in a journal. All of these activities promote calmness and reduce cortisol levels making it easier to fall asleep.
Create A Great Sleep Environment - Our bedrooms have a much bigger impact on our sleep quality than you might think. That is why it’s important to set it up in the right way so that you can achieve a good night of rest. This means removing all digital devices, blocking out natural light and keeping room temperature between 15 and 23 degrees celsius.
Improving your sleep hygiene is an extremely important step along the road to good health. While it literally won’t happen overnight, with consistency and patience you will be able to naturally improve sleep quality using the tips we have shared above.
There are many sleep disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea that have the ability to disrupt sleep patterns and lead to chronic fatigue.
If you notice signs that sleep hygiene and quality are not improving, make sure to not leave it to go ignored and to take action as soon as possible. If you continue to wake up feeling fatigued regardless of how many hours of sleep you achieved each night, it may be worth speaking with your doctor.
Even as we reduce digital noise, get to bed early, we may still wake up unrested.
Talking with a trusted physician could lead to an underlying problem you may not have realized. An opportunity to stop fatigue and resolve impaired sleep could be just one conversation away.