How sleep deprivation affects health and what to do about it
According to the CDC, over a third of all adults in the U.S. are getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep each night. People of color fair the worst when it comes to getting enough sleep. Just over half (51.5%) of Black adults sleep an average of 7 hours or more each night compared to two-thirds of White adults.
A lack of sleep can also lower your motivation for exercise or reduce the amount of time and energy you spend when you do work out. This may in turn also affect the quality and quantity of your sleep, which can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle since exercise helps our body maintain its circadian rhythm.
Given all the negative health implications of sleep deprivation, it’s important to think about our sleep schedule and what we can do to improve it.
10 Tips for Healthy Sleeping Habits
1. Reduce your screen time.
A lot of recent studies have shown that blue light can affect the quality and duration of sleep among adults and children. Blue light signals to our body that it’s daytime so it produces less melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us sleep. This means that we should try and reduce the amount of time we spend on our laptop, television, phone, or tablet, especially right before we go to bed. Some sleep experts suggest that we should avoid screens starting 4 hours before our usual bedtime, while other research indicates that we should try to limit our screen time in general to improve our ability to sleep.
If you can’t reduce your screen exposure, blue light glasses may offer some protection for sleep. Additionally, many newer electronic devices now include a nighttime mode. Check out this article from PC Magazine that walks through the process for turning on the nighttime setting on your devices.
2. Block out light pollution.
All sources of light can affect our sleep, not just blue light. Check your room for sources of light pollution that may be affecting your ability to sleep. Make sure that your windows are covered with dark curtains to block out any streetlights. Close your door and turn off the lights to see if there is light shining through from underneath the door. If there is, roll up a towel or use an extra pillow to block out the light. Alternatively, consider investing in an eye mask.
3. Skip the nightcap.
Although alcohol may initially help some people fall asleep, it can actually lead to restlessness later in the night. The Sleep Foundations recommends that we have our last alcoholic beverage at least 4 hours before bedtime.
If you’re looking to reduce your alcohol intake, check out our 5 tips for identifying your limit and cutting down on drinking.
4. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
Caffeine stimulates the body and may prevent us from falling asleep or staying asleep. Avoid drinking or eating anything with caffeine in it after 3–4pm to minimize the chance of it affecting your sleep.
5. Tune out.
Noise pollution can affect our sleep just like light. Consider investing in some wax or foam earplugs to prevent noises from waking you up during night. You could also use a noise machine or app that plays pink noise or white noise.
Exercise can be just as effective for sleep as a medical prescription. One thing to note is that an intense workout shortly before bedtime may affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep by raising your body temperature. The general recommendation is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week and to make sure that you complete your workout at least an hour or more before bedtime.
7. Avoid eating close to bedtime.
Food also causes our body temperatures to rise as we are digesting. Some people are also more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems if they lay down shortly after they’ve eaten, which can also impact the ability to sleep. For these reasons, you should aim to finish dinner 3 hours before laying down for bed.
8. Be consistent.
Our biological processes operate in cycles. When our behavior is inconsistent, we disrupt these natural cycles and throw our whole system out of whack. Sleep is a critical part of this cycle so it’s important to consistently sleep at the same time each night, even on the weekends, so that your body can synchronize your internal clock.
9. Resist the snooze button.
Similar to going bed at the same time each night, try to wake up at the same time each day even if you went to sleep later than usual. It’s important to get up at the same time each day to prevent yourself from getting out of rhythm.
If you feel like you need a nap, the Sleep Foundation recommends that you avoid napping after 2pm and limiting your nap to 20–30 minutes to ensure that you don’t disrupt your sleep-wake cycle.
10. Create a winding down routine.
Stress and stimulating activities can sometimes make it hard to fall asleep. Get into the routine of scheduling an hour or more of relaxation time before bedtime to calm the body and prepare for sleeping. Spend that time doing something you find relaxing like reading a book, journaling, meditating, or taking a nice warm bath.
Getting a good night’s rest is about more than feeling energized the next day. Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences on our health and wellness. Establishing healthy sleeping habits is the best way to beat the fatigue and improve our overall well-being.