Sleep is one the body’s basic needs like food. In the same manner as nutrition deficiency, sleep deficiency can cause mental and physical health problems.
For instance, sleep deficiency can result in a vehicular accident. You can land in a hospital or end your existence on earth.
Getting enough sleep is vital to how individuals function mentally and physically.
What is “enough sleep”?
The National Sleep Foundation, together with experts from various medical fields met and came up with their recommended sleep durations per age groups as summarized below:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours daily
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours daily
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours daily
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours daily
- Children of School age (6-13 years): 9-11 hours daily
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours daily
- Younger adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours daily
- Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours daily
- Older adults (65+ years): 7-8 hours daily
The recommendations also include what “may be appropriate for some individuals” as well as “not recommended.”
Natural Ways To Improve Your Sleep
Why should you rely on natural ways instead of taking the easier and convenient ways like taking sleep medications? Sometimes it’s tempting to just take a sleeping pill when you’re desperate to sleep.
There are time when you have to take sleep medications but it should be for short-term use only to avoid tolerance and dependence. The convenience and faster relief that sleep medications provide don’t outweigh the risks from its long-term use.
There are also natural sleep supplements like kava, valerian, melatonin and tryptophan. However, the FDA does not monitor these natural sleep medications. You can’t be sure about their safety, labeling, efficacy and quality. Some, like kava, can cause liver damage and should be taken only with close medical supervision. Melatonin is known to interfere with some diabetes and blood pressure medications.
So, to improve your sleep without complications, choose the following natural ways over sleeping pills and other sleep medications.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other stimulants
Even if you love coffee, alcohol or smoking, reduce your intake or stay away from them a few hours before your bedtime. Some people say that a glass of wine helps them sleep. However, it may also wake you up when your body’s alcohol level drops after a few hours.
Nicotine, a stimulant like caffeine, can also disrupt your sleep.
Why not try warm milk instead? Milk has calcium that helps the body make melatonin, the hormone that helps control your sleep/wake cycle.
Eat a Light Meal Close to Bedtime
The reason here is that while asleep, your body should be resting, instead of digesting food. Make sure that you don’t eat food that you know will lead to stomach trouble.
Establish a sleeping schedule
The body should establish its regular sleeping schedule – times to go to bed and to wake up. Include also a relaxing routine of activities to do about an hour before bedtime. Some people meditate or take a warm bath.
A midday nap, if it’s not part of your daily routine, may disrupt your established sleeping schedule.
Studies show that physical activities like exercise or just plain walking improve sleep quality as well as the sleep duration. Physical activity tires you out, you just want to sleep. It’s better if you exercise outdoors so that your body is exposed to natural sun light.
Studies of patients suffering from insomnia observed that exercise reduces their anxiety and depression symptoms.
Exercise also increases body temperature. The drop-in body temperature after the exercise may help one to fall asleep. For people who find it faster to sleep after an exercise, the best time to do it would be from late afternoon to early evening.
Some people may not feel any sleep improvement after a few days of exercise. As the experts say, there is no quick fix to get rid of sleep problems. You should make exercise a regular part of your daily activities to gradually enjoy the benefits.
The type, time and amount of exercise that would best improve sleep depends on the individual. Some people need vigorous exercise while some notice sleep improvement with regular leisurely walk for an hour daily. Some get superior results with exercise in the morning while some people prefer to exercise at night.
Create a Sleep-inducing or sleep-friendly setting
Your sleeping condition greatly affects the quality and duration of your sleep. So, make your room or sleeping area like a sanctuary with the following features:
- Cool temperatures – between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Free from disturbing noise. If you can, install noise filter or “white noise” machine.
- Clean, orderly, clutter-free surroundings – some people are distracted by just seeing things that are not in their proper places.
- Comfortable pillows and mattress – choose pillows that are soft but still support your head and neck.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Sleep in a dark room – Ideally, it should be free of any light because the human body is made to sleep when it’s dark. The reason is that light reduces secretion of melatonin, the hormone that naturally induces sleep.
If a completely dark room is not possible, dim your lights and leave just enough illumination so you don’t worry about tripping over things.
You are the best judge of what is the best sleep environment for you. Do you feel at peace, relaxed and safe in your room?
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- Why lack of sleep is bad for your health
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- Why Is Sleep Important?
- The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep
- Sleeping Pills & Natural Sleep Aids