Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our bodies. It’s not a nice add-on; it’s a necessity for wellness. Not getting enough sleep is linked to serious chronic health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and weakened immune function. It also compromises your ability to cope with stress.
But sleep’s influence doesn’t stop there. Research shows that poor sleep habits have been found to shorten a person’s lifespan. Getting enough quality sleep is essential. While it can’t promise longevity, it keeps your vital bodily processes moving as they should. Let’s talk about which sleep habits you should add to your routine tonight.
What happens while we’re sleeping?
Although you’re not moving, your body is active while asleep. There are key mental and physical processes that happen while we sleep.
Let’s start with the brain. Cognitive function depends on sleep. Sleep allows the brain to form new neural pathways to complete other cognitive functions like learning, concentration and problem-solving. According to Harvard Health, your brain also uses sleep as a time to clear out toxins that build up while you’re awake.
Memory consolidation also happens while we’re asleep. Think about it like this, when you’re awake, you’re taking in the information, but it’s just floating around in your mind. You have to go to sleep to understand what it means and be able to recall it from long-term memory.
Physically, sleep helps your body repair itself, including muscles, organs and cells. It also grows tissues and releases hormones that aid in body growth and restoration. Another key function sleep allows the body to do is fight off sickness. While sleeping, the immune system releases cytokines, a small protein that reduces inflammation or infection.
3 sleep habits to implement if you want to live longer
A lot goes on while sleeping, all of which is essential for overall health. Try these sleeping tips to ensure you’re as healthy as possible.
Sleep for around 7 hours a night
To start, ensure you are sleeping enough. According to the CDC, adults should average 7 or more hours of sleep each night. Not just any kind of sleep will do; it must be uninterrupted and restful. You want to get as much deep sleep as possible. Deep sleep is one of the most important stages, as it gives your brain and body the chance to rest and recover from the day.
OK, so you can’t choose what type of sleep you get. However, there are things you can do while you’re awake to prepare yourself to successfully progress through the sleep stages and get your quota for deep sleep.
Use these tips to maximize your sleep quality and duration:
- Avoid caffeine 6 hours before sleep: It’s best to keep your caffeine consumption to the morning and early afternoon. Stop drinking it roughly 4 to 6 hours before your bedtime, so it doesn’t impact your ability to fall asleep.
- Don’t drink alcohol before bed: For some people, alcohol can relax them enough to easily fall asleep. However, that bliss doesn’t last. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that calms the excitatory nerve cells in the brain. As your body metabolizes the alcohol, these cells rebound, and you wake up.
- Invest in sleep essentials: To get the best sleep, ensure your bedroom is a true sleep sanctuary. From bedding to your mattress to blackout curtains, making the right choices for your sleep needs matters.
- Exercise a few hours before bed: The timing of your workout partly determines how well you’ll sleep. Intense exercise sessions should generally not be performed right before bed, as they raise your heart rate and stimulate your nervous system, making falling asleep difficult. It’s best to keep your vigorous workouts at least an hour before bed. That said, low-impact yoga sessions can be performed right before bed as they can improve your sleep quality.
- Try to manage anxiety: Anxiety can put a significant strain on your ability to sleep. To manage anxiety symptoms before bed, use a meditation app or sleep with a weighted blanket to manage anxiety symptoms before bed.
Address your sleep apnea
You’d be surprised how many people don’t get treatment for their sleep apnea. I get it. The masks can be uncomfortable, and the machine pumping can keep your partner up. But you shouldn’t ignore your sleep apnea.
The nature of sleep apnea will not let you sleep well without treatment. When you have sleep apnea, you momentarily stop breathing while you sleep because your throat muscles relax too much, and they block your airways. As a result, you wake up. It can happen as few as a couple of times or hundreds of times each night. No matter how long you sleep with untreated sleep apnea, you never feel rested.
Studies have found that sleep apnea can contribute to an “older” biological age and accelerated aging. It also has been shown to contribute to chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Seeking treatment for sleep apnea can reduce your risk of health conditions and help you sleep better at night.
Stick to your sleep routine
Do you ever notice that you get tired around the same time each night? That’s for a very good reason. Our bodies have a natural sleep-wake cycle called the circadian rhythm. It’s the thing that helps us wind down enough to fall asleep by flooding our brains with melatonin.
Keeping the same sleep and wake time helps keep your circadian rhythm aligned. A disrupted circadian rhythm will cause you to experience daytime sleepiness and trouble concentrating. As often as you can, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Yes, even on the weekends.
Sleep is the basis of our health. Getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do to ensure you live a long, happy life. Start being intentional about your sleep tonight.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.