We all know how sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep is not just about feeling tired, it can deeply affect our mood and mental focus. Conversely, good quality sleep is known to improve memory, mental focus and awareness. However we rarely think about how to improve our sleep quality beyond normal, to reap such benefits. By following some pretty straight-forward tips, you can not only recharge yourself overnight, but also prime yourself for optimal performance. Let’s take a look at some of key things sleep science has to teach us.
While you might not get insomnia, it’s surprisingly easy to disrupt your body’s intention to get a restful night in the sack. Here are 4 steps to make sure you don’t get in the way of sleep.
1. A first mistake for who are feeling overly tired, is to try to make up by forcing extra sleep time, by going to bed earlier or getting up later. In reality, your normal amount of time in bed promotes more restful sleep and maintains a balanced circadian rhythm.
2. A second common error is for people to find something to do in bed when they can’t sleep. Doing things like watching TV, going on social media, or even reading in bed, teach your body that your bed isn’t for sleeping. The trick is to condition yourself that your bedroom is for sleep, so that it becomes automatic. When you can’t sleep for whatever reason, it’s best to leave the bedroom, take some time out that’s involves relaxing, then go back to bed when ready.
3. Another simple thing to avoid is eating late at night. Your body has an internal clock that is not just aligned to the daily cycles of light and dark, but also how you eat. Research shows that your blood sugar and fat levels naturally elevate at night to prepare for going without food. Eating on top of this simply creates an energy surplus, just as your biological system trying to drop down gears for rest.
4. Finally, perhaps the most disrupting thing for a peaceful slumber is a worrying mind. Ironically it’s worrying about the effects of lack of sleep that is the most potent way to prevent it. When this happens often, it becomes a mental habit. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one solution to this, which involves training your conscious thinking to trade negative thoughts for positive ones, setting realistic goals and learning to let go of inaccurate thoughts that can interfere with sleep. Tomorrow is simply another day of the 20 to 30 thousand we have in a life time.
In recent years there have been a slew of scientific studies showing the numerous benefits of mindfulness. As mindfulness exercises are all based on relaxation techniques for both mind and body, when done pre-bedtime they go hand-in-hand with setting yourself up for a great night’s sleep. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming either, just a 10-20 minute routine of using meditation, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or biofeedback based apps will help create an optimal transition state before retiring to the bedroom.
Each night we go through a succession of REM cycles, typically 4-5 each night. These start off short, getting progressively longer and deeper throughout the night. REM is considered to be the most important aspect of sleep as far as our mental well-being goes. Accordingly, the worst time to be woken is in the middle of REM, which scientists have found makes people irritable and leaves them feeling particularly groggy.
If your alarm clock goes off like a sledge hammer and you awake amidst thoughts of crazy dreams, then it means your longest REM cycle has just been disrupted, and you will pay the price for it. The trick is to try altering your sleep time to be shorter or longer, so that you wake up outside of REM. Get the knack of this rhythm and even though your body may feel tired when you rise and shine, mentally it will feel natural. Also alarms that start quietly and gently, slowly rising to a crescendo, are a neat way to make waking up a smoother process.
Lots of research shows that sleep plays a critical role in synthesizing each day’s events through learning and memory. This includes ‘acquisition’ (new information into the brain), ‘consolidation’ (creating stables memory formations), and ‘recall’ (improving the ability to access the information) – all achieved by strengthening of the neural connections.
It turns out your brain has a natural bias towards information absorbed later in the day, and even just before napping. Importantly this also encompasses creative problem-solving, which means that learning new things, or contemplating intellectual challenges in the evening, can set you up for success. One tip is to switch some TV time for quality reading.
So there we have it, it’s not rocket science to enhance the effects of what you do for a third of your life!
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