These days getting enough sleep is wishful thinking. Many people think that they can get by with only a few hours of sleep a night, but the truth is that long-term sleep deprivation can lead to significant health problems.
As you can imagine, not getting enough sleep can lead to chronic fatigue and cognitive impairment. A 2004 Chicago study showed that medical students who get less than four hours of sleep per night make twice as many mistakes as those who get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation also degrades your short-term memory and how well you pay attention.
But the effects don’t stop there. Sleep deprivation is associated with higher levels of stress hormones. Studies have shown a correlation between obesity and not getting enough sleep, with short sleep patterns associated with higher appetite. There is even evidence that not getting enough sleep can slow down the healing process.
Needless to say, the importance of sleep is often understated. So what can you do to help get better sleep?
The first thing I can tell you is to avoid sleeping pills if you can. While they can help you get to sleep, the quality of sleep is much lower, leading to some of the same problems listed above. Fortunately some behavioural changes and a bit of natural medicine can really make a positive impact on your sleeping patterns.
1. Avoid alcohol before bed and caffeine at least six hours before bed. Caffeine stays in your system for more than 12 hours, but half of it is eliminated within six hours after consumption. So that evening coffee can end up giving you restless sleep hours later. Alcohol should also be avoided. Although it’s popular for some people to take a night cap, just like sleeping pills the quality of your sleep is impaired.
2. Take some melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone found in plants, animals, and even microbes. It’s become popular in alternative medicine over the past several years for the treatment of several problems, from some forms of depression to Alzheimer’s disease. But its most common use is as a supplement to help induce sleep. Melatonin is naturally secreted by your pineal gland and is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
3. Try aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine which uses aromatic oils to induce healing effects on the mind and body. Studies have shown that aromatherapy can reduce stress and induce relaxation, both of which can naturally help you unwind and get to sleep faster. There is evidence that lemon oil works well for this purpose, but experiment with different oils to see what works for you.
4. Acupuncture. Every year it seems new studies are published showing the efficacy of acupuncture as a form of alternative medicine. A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh showed evidence of acupuncture being able to treat insomnia.
5. Exercise more. Getting enough exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall general health. You could write a book just about the benefits of exercise in all aspects of health. As long as you don’t do any intense exercise right before bed, it can help you get a better night’s sleep.
Making sure you get the right quantity of quality sleep is crucial to maintaining good general health.