You may hear it a lot more than you like: you look tired. (Of course, a lot of us get a little disturbed if someone says that to us when we don’t feel tired at all!) While some people find it easy to get a little offended, there’s no denying that there’s a certain look or vibe that you exude when you’ve clearly not been getting enough sleep. Your eyes aren’t open as widely as they should be, and maybe you’ve even got bags under them. Your speech is a little slurred. You’re moving a little slower than usual.
Even so, most people seem to shrug off these sorts of comments. After all, who doesn’t look a little tired these days? How many people out there are really getting the sleep they need?
A lot of people shrug these sorts of comments off because they feel that they’re functioning just fine, even if they could have done with an hour or two more sleep. Or, at least, you don’t feel that you’re necessarily functioning any worse than usual. But it’s worth highlighting that “just fine” isn’t exactly your best, right? “Just fine” is a pretty uninspiring way of describing anything. Wouldn’t it be better to be functioning at your best? To be functioning at full capacity?
A big part of the problem with the approach to sleep that many people have is that they greatly underestimate how big the negative impact of not getting enough sleep can be.
The effects of sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation? The term has a pretty unpleasant ring to it for most people. They imagine things like torture or lab tests on animals as opposed to something that they could actually be bringing upon themselves! Sleep deprivation can do a lot of long-term harm to your body, but it doesn’t require extensive lack of sleep on a nightly basis to become a problem. Even ‘under-sleeping’ by an hour or so for a long enough period will have you suffering its effects.
Irritability is probably one of the most obvious symptoms, but it can go beyond that. There are also the impaired cognitive abilities to consider – you’ll find it harder to concentrate and remember things. It will negatively affect your mood, which is something you must take seriously if you have a mood problem such as depression. It also results in your immune system not functioning at full capacity, and can even lead to or exacerbate skin problems.
So what can you do about your lack of sleep? The truth is that most people do go to sleep when they feel tired; they don’t purposefully push themselves to stay awake for longer. So it’s partly a case of trying to encourage tiredness a little earlier in the evening. You also need to focus on improving the quality of your sleep, so that you get a longer, deeper sleep. Let’s take a look at some of the things you need to keep in mind.
Perhaps the most common problem when it comes to sleep is the prevalence of gadgets in many of our lives. Computers and smartphones really don’t help us very much when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. This is because artificial light keeps our brains churning even when our bodies are feeling exhausted; this keeps you awake for longer and affects your sleep quality once you have fallen asleep. When a lot of people go to bed, they don’t really do so with the intention of falling asleep as soon as possible; they do it because they like the comfort of the bed. What they’ll often do is sit up in bed and use their smartphone or laptop – which is a mistake.
Gadget use keeps you brain in a low-level state of hyperactivity; though you may not sense this all that much, the fact is that your brain isn’t really ‘shutting down’ properly, which is precisely what you need it to do if you want to get some good, long sleep! When it’s time for bed, it’s time for bed. Set an alarm on your phone and put it somewhere out of reach. Keep the lights dim and do a bit of light reading. This will help prepare your brain for a better sleep in a much more efficient fashion!
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to getting good sleep is that they don’t pay enough attention on the regulation of temperature in their home. This can have a tremendous effect on your ability to fall asleep. It’s best to sleep in a relatively cool room, because one that gets too warm will find you moving about in discomfort quite a lot throughout the night. But if things are a little too cold, then you should ensure your heating allows for the room to be warmed up then gradually cooled back down throughout the night. Some people worry about the expenses tied to heating, though companies such as British Gas are helping people alleviate those costs.
You may also find that the specific comfort problem you’re having is tied to your mattress. So many people make the mistake of getting a very basic and cheap spring mattress. While they may seem comfortable enough at first, they wear out very quickly and don’t provide enough support for your body. This can often result in those nightly tossing and turnings.
This doesn’t mean you should go out and buy the most expensive mattress you can find, however. It’s just important that you understand that there is a tremendous amount of choice out there, as well as a lot of factors you need to consider when it comes to picking a mattress. Consider researching the matter using a mattress guide, or having a chat with one of the assistants in a mattress store. (Remember that they may very well try to get you to buy the most expensive mattress, though!)
Substances vs sleep
Nicotine, alcohol, caffeine. Three substances the induce joy in people upon simply seeing their names on a screen. Of course, they’re all substances with which you have to be very careful. It’s not that all three are unhealthy – caffeine is actually pretty good for improving mood and concentration, and the right brands of coffee and tea are packed with antioxidants. But they’re all substances you should only ever have in moderation. Well, except nicotine. Stop smoking, guys, seriously.
But as enjoyable as you may find the occasional indulgence in these substances, the fact is that they’re really quite antithetical to sleep. Caffeine, of course, is primarily used to stave off sleep, so it’s hardly the kind of thing you want to consume in the hours before bedtime. (No, that after-dinner coffee is not a good idea, no matter how well an espresso goes down after a big meal!) It’s worth remembering that caffeine has a similar effect to that of late-night smartphone use; it keeps your brain a little wired, but doesn’t really keep up the energy levels in your body all that well. Try cutting down your coffee intake to perhaps two or three cups a day, and consider avoiding it full-stop after about four or five in the late afternoon.
Alcohol isn’t particularly helpful, either. Though many people assume that you can fall asleep much easier once you’ve had a glass of wine or two – and it probably would be a little disingenuous to deny that some people do find this to be the case – the quality of sleep you get certainly won’t be very good. Nicotine – the one you should probably be working to avoid altogether – also intrudes on your sleep. That cigarette before bed? It’s a mistake!