Do you get out of bed in the morning feeling ”tired, run down, and listless?” Before you reach for that bottle of Vitameatavegamin, consider this: According to a poll conducted by YouGov, only one in seven Americans wake up feeling invigorated every day of the week. According to experts, getting eight hours of sleep each night is our best bet to waking up refreshed. So then, why is it that forty five percent of Americans sleeping seven to eight hours a night reported feeling tired or fatigued up to three times a week?
It turns out that how we sleep is just as important as how much we sleep. Most of us have heard the adage “quality over quantity.” In the case of a good night’s sleep, we really need both, quality AND quantity. If this were five years ago, we might have pointed you to a sleep lab to achieve this balance. Lucky for you, it’s 2016 and the answer to getting a good night’s sleep might be at your fingertips. Thanks to smartphones and apps, there are a variety of ways you can begin to count the hours you sleep and, more importantly determine and ultimately improve, the quality of your shut eye.
Most sleep tracking apps are free, easy to use and loaded with valuable insight. You may be surprised to learn that many fitness tracking devices like the Fitbit Charge, Up2 by Jawbone and Misfit Shine, among others, also track sleep. If you’re looking for more information on sleep tracking or you need help choosing the right tracker to count your ZZZs, Wellocracy’s Sleep Apps & Devices Comparison Chart is a great first step towards getting a good night’s sleep. And once you start tracking your sleep, take note that the more insight you have into your daily routine, the better the data and, ultimately, the outcome. It’s surprising how many “sleep thieves” exist and even more surprising how easy some of them can be avoided. Here are some common examples of those ‘sleep thieves’ that you can put to sleep for good.
Lack of Sunshine
Have you ever worked the late shift or experienced jet lag and found your sleep pattern disrupted? This is because we have natural, internal clocks (called the circadian biological clock) that regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness. The circadian rhythm dips and rises throughout the day and based on the amount of exposure to sunlight, signals our body when it is time to rest. When the rhythm is disrupted by keeping long and irregular hours, your sleep takes a hit.
A study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign indicates that all-day exposure to natural light, even light through a window, leads to a longer and better sleep at night. And there is increasing evidence that exposure to light during the day, particularly in the morning, is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism. You don’t have to work the late shift to experience the fallout from a lack of sunshine. A lot of us get to work before the sun is up and return home after the sun has set. If any of this resonates, make time to soak up some sun — take a quick walk around the block, find a park bench and soak it all in. Get some rays to get some ZZZs.
Peel Yourself Away from Those Screens
Do you spend time before bed staring at the bright glow of a computer or television screen? Or maybe your favorite pre-bedtime pastime is scrolling around on your smartphone? It’s possible these “light boxes” may be the reason you have trouble settling down to sleep. “The use of light-emitting electronic devices for reading, communication and entertainment has greatly increased recently. We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning,” says Anne-Marie Chang of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. So instead of winding yourself up before it’s time to wind down, try getting cozy with something printed instead. Put down the device or step away from the screen and go old school with a classic book or magazine and rest assured you’ll be on your way to la la land.
Here’s a common sense sleep solution that’s also really easy to track. How many cups of coffee do you have in a day and perhaps more importantly, when? If you find yourself going for the break room in the middle of the day for coffee, or tipping back a cup post dinner to help digest, it is very likely that cup of Joe you can’t live without may be the very thing sabotaging your sleep. But what can you do? You can’t not drink coffee! The good news is that having one or two cups in the morning is probably not going to keep you up at night. The problem is the late day and evening drinking that is doing you in. It can take hours for caffeine to leave your system, as many as 4-6 hours for every cup! That 4:00pm Starbucks Frappuccino (containing 90 mg caffeine!) is probably the reason you’re wide awake when you should be sound asleep. Try cutting out caffeine a little earlier each day and see what happens. It may by eye opening, but in this case, we hope its eye closing.
If you like to exercise after work, dinner or once the kids are put to bed, keep in mind that the later you start sweating, the more trouble you may have falling asleep. While exercising earlier in the day can be a great tool to help you sleep well, working out later in the day, and closer to when you want to go to bed, can have the opposite effect. Exercising can be too much stimulation for your body to relax and come down from. It raises your metabolism as well as the production of adrenalin and is not conducive to bedding down. As a rule, try getting your exercise in before dinner, and even earlier if you can. Remember, you don’t have to work out all at once. Think about getting your exercise in throughout the day in small bursts, so you don’t have to spend as much time later on. Rest assured, you will be pleased with the results and glad to have the down time when it matters most.