If there is one thing many of us have in common, it’s that we do not get enough sleep.
Several factors, including imbalances with the HPA-T Axis and irregular neurotransmitter and adrenal hormone levels, can impact one’s sleep. Particularly, low serotonin and GABA levels, excess cortisol secretion, and accelerated catecholamine synthesis can deprive us of restorative sleep.
Medications, a packed schedule, age, work, or genetics, can throw wrenches in our HPA-T Axis and rip away our quality time dedicated to counting our fluffy sheep at night. Luckily, research has identified several habits that may help maximize the amount of hours spent sleeping.
From Harvard Medical School, here are some suggestions to help improve the quality of sleep:
“#1 Say no to Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime.
Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.
Although alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is therefore best to limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.
#2 Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment
A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber.
Why do you think bats congregate in caves for their daytime sleep?
To achieve such an environment:
- Lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up.
- Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. (Remember that most mattresses wear out after ten years.)
- If a pet regularly wakes you during the night, you may want to consider keeping it out of your bedroom.
- It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
#3 Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time, night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep drive will help you consolidate sleep the following night.”
Learn more about the importance of synchronizing the clock in The Drive to Sleep and Our Internal Clock.
Harvard Medical School. (2007). Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips
Burke, T., Markwalk, R., McHill A., Chinoy E., Snider J., Bessman S., Jung C., O’Neill J., Wright K. (2015). Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro. Science Translational Medicine, 7, Issue 305. http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/7/305/305ra146
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Brown, F., Buboltz, W., Soper, B., (2010). Relationship of Sleep Hygiene Awareness, Sleep Hygiene Practices, and Sleep Quality in University Students. Behavioral Medicine, 28, Issue 1. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08964280209596396