Tired of Being Tired? How to Get More (and Better) Sleep
Canada is a sleep-deprived nation. For optimal health, adults need seven to nine hours of shut-eye nightly (seven to eight hours for people 65 and older). A third of us aren’t getting it, reports Statistics Canada.
Research also shows that many of us experience poor sleep quality: 55% of women and 43% of men aged 18 to 64 have trouble falling sleep or staying asleep “sometimes,” “most of the time” or “all of the time.” Almost half of us don’t feel refreshed after sleeping, and a third of us feel drowsy during the day.
The connection between sleep and health
Sleeping poorly leaves us feeling tired and groggy, but that’s not all. Inadequate sleep has been linked to serious health issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, injuries and even premature death. People who sleep less than six hours per night, or have trouble falling asleep, have an increased risk of high blood pressure. Lack of rest also weakens the immune system, making us more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Lack of sleep also negatively affects our thinking, concentration, learning ability, perception, judgment, response time and creativity. It can influence our mood, causing irritability and stress, and over time it may raise the risk of anxiety and depression. All of these issues can contribute to poor performance and productivity at work or school.
Tips to get better sleep
Here’s how to boost your chances of getting good-quality sleep – tonight and every night:
- Get exposure to bright light during the day. This will support your body’s natural circadian rhythm, or “body clock,” which regulates many biological processes and helps determine sleep patterns.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. Take a walk at lunchtime, for example. (Just don’t exercise close to bedtime.)
- Keep your schedule consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night, and rise at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
- Avoid consuming caffeine after 3 p.m. Caffeine – found in tea, coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks – lingers in the bloodstream for up to eight hours.
- Don’t nap too much. Short power naps (up to 30 minutes) can be beneficial, but long daytime naps can decrease nighttime sleep quality.
- Set up your bedroom for better sleep – it should be quiet, dark and cool (about 16 to 20 degrees Celsius). Block ambient and street noise with ear plugs, and install thick curtains to minimize light and sound. If your pillow, bedding and mattress are uncomfortable or worn out, consider replacing them.
- Reduce fluid intake one to two hours before bedtime, to avoid having to get up to use the bathroom. Also avoid eating a heavy meal late in the evening.
- Dim the lights an hour before you go to sleep.
- Avoid using screens and devices – TVs, smartphones, tablets and laptops – two hours before bedtime.
- Try breathing exercises or meditation to relax before bedtime. Have too much on your mind? Write it down and deal with it tomorrow.
- Take a warm shower or bath, or soak your feet in hot water. This may lower your core temperature (by distributing warmth to hands and feet) and help you cool down for sleep.
- Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid. You may fall asleep faster but wake in the middle of the night. Alcohol also reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep – the most restorative kind. Lack of REM sleep can contribute to daytime drowsiness and affect concentration.
- Do something relaxing. If you’re not asleep within 20 minutes, go to another room and do a relaxing activity, like reading or listening to music. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.
Could you have a sleep disorder?
If you still struggle to get a good night’s rest, or you don’t feel rested and alert during the day, talk to your physician. They may want to evaluate you for these and other sleep disorders:
Sleep apnea: Breathing interruptions caused by repeated blocking of the upper airway. If not treated, sleep apnea can lead to complications such as heart attack, diabetes and other serious health conditions.
Periodic limb movements disorder (PLMD): Repetitive movements, usually in the legs and feet, such as muscle twitches, limb jerks and flexing of the ankles, knees or hips. PLMD is not medically serious, but it can contribute to poor sleep and daytime fatigue.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS): A sleep movement disorder that causes an individual to feel uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the legs, followed by an urge to move them. Untreated, RLS can lead to exhaustion and daytime sleepiness.