Sleep is an important part of the body's overall health. During sleep, the body works to regenerate muscles, heal wounds, and reinforce the immune system. Also, the brain goes through processes to consolidate memories, allowing better memory recall and enhanced learning abilities.
When someone misses out on sleep, even for a short amount of time, all of these processes are stunted. Because the body didn't receive the regulatory hormones normally released during sleep, it causes moodiness, hunger, and soreness. Long periods of sleep deprivation have been shown to increase chances of developing diabetes, mania, and depression.
In order to combat these effects, here are some common sleep mistakes that could be contributing to sleep loss.
Mistake 1: Interrupted Sleep Schedule
Some individuals think that they can stay out late one night by getting a few hours extra sleep the night before. The idea that hours of sleep can be "saved" and employed at other times is known as "sleep debt." Neurophysiologists are still divided on exactly how much sleep debt one can build-up, but they are sure that if there is any, it is not much. The body's ability to signal the appropriate processes depends in part on maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Staying out late one night cannot be counteracted by sleeping in another morning.
Try to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time everyday, even on weekends. This regular schedule reinforces the body's internal clock, which will help signal the brain when to release the hormones necessary for sleeping and waking.
Mistake 2: Technology in the Bedroom
In today's society, it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without a cell phone. But bringing a phone into the bedroom is one of the most common sleep mistakes, and can have detrimental effects on the body's sleep schedule. Individuals who use their phones immediately before bed take longer to fall asleep and spend less time in REM sleep, which is important for the brain to process memories. Likewise, individuals who watch movies or use their tablets or laptops experience similar results. The problem is in the blue light that is emitted from screens, which the brain interprets in much the same way as daylight.
Leave cell phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions out of the bedroom. Try to restrict all technology use to other rooms in the house, and make a concerted effort to turn all blue light emitting devices off before turning out the lights.
Mistake 3: Caffeine in the afternoon (or evening)
After a long day at work or a big, filling lunch, a cup of coffee or glass of soda might seem incredibly enticing. However, even a small cup of coffee or a can of soda can have 200 mg of caffeine. Afternoon caffeine boosts are one of the most easily preventable sleep mistakes. It can take over seven hours for body to process the caffeine, meaning the effects of the caffeine won't be wearing off until much later in the evening.
Instead of a drink, try to stick to protein-packed snacks. Protein is not a strong stimulant like caffeine, so a snack with protein can provide the body with enough energy to continue until the evening, without that buzzing feeling.
Mistake 4: Napping during the day
Like a cup of coffee, a nap might seem like a good way to counteract feelings of low-energy late in the afternoon. But naps, even just short ones, can interrupt the body's sleep rhythm and prevent a full night's rest the next night.
Avoid taking naps, especially late in the afternoon. A short walk or light exercise, like Pilates or yoga, is a great way to get blood flowing and regain energy to help us get through the day.
Mistake 5: Expecting immediate sleep
Many people fall into their beds with the expectation that sleep will be immediate. But expecting the body to go from a highly energetic state to standstill without an in-between period is impractical. Like a car, the body needs some time to slow down. In order to signal the body that it is time to sleep, the brain produces sleep neurotransmitters, which must provide feedback before the feeling of being tired is present.
Developing a pre-sleep pattern is a great way to signal the brain that it is nearly time for sleep. Try turning off the TV or other electronic devices a few hours before bedtime. Warm baths, calming music, light yoga, or stretching are all great pre-sleep activities. Many people find reading a book is another way to calm the brain.
In order for these solutions to work, they must be done regularly. Over time, the body will adjust to having a normalized sleep pattern and begin to reward with a restful night's sleep.