Though it may seem like an inactive process, during sleep your brain is busy undertaking important tasks crucial to both your mental and physical health. Not only does sleep give your body a chance to remove built-up waste products from your brain cells, it also gives your brain the opportunity to process and remember what it learned during the day. This makes it easier to create and retain memories, have better concentration, and perform well on tasks the next day.
A lack of quality sleep can result in a variety of physical and mental health concerns. Not getting enough sleep has been associated with:
- An increased risk of developing certain cancers and Type 2 Diabetes
- A weakened immune system, which can make it harder to combat sickness and infection
- An increased risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease
- A lack of concentration and brain fog that may make it harder to drive or perform other complex functions safely
- A higher risk of developing depression and anxiety
- Irritability that may impact your relationships with others
- More difficulty with weight loss
- Reduced productivity during the working day, and maybe surprisingly, even reduced productivity of those who work with you!
Barriers to Good Sleep Quality
There are many reasons that people may struggle with getting a good night’s sleep. Some common reasons include:
- Sleep disorders and chronic illnesses. This can include insomnia, sleep apnea, and chronic pain.
- Mental health conditions. Experiencing PTSD, psychosis, anxiety, or depression may disturb or prevent sleep.
- Consumption of certain foods and beverages before bedtime. Caffeine products and chocolate can prevent sleepiness. Food and drink before bed can increase nighttime trips to the bathroom or heartburn.
- Exposure to blue light from screens. Blue light can block your body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your daily sleeping and waking cycles.
- An irregular sleeping schedule. Inconsistent bedtimes and wake-up times may also put you at risk for developing certain metabolic disorders.
- Changes in your medication schedule. Starting or stopping a medication may result in changes to your sleeping patterns.
Tips to Improve Sleep Quality
Most doctors recommend a minimum of seven hours of sleep, with the ideal amount varying by age. Typically, children and teenagers need more sleep than adults, but the amount you may need is influenced by both your environment and genetics.
In addition to how long you sleep, how well you sleep is also important. If you find yourself getting up frequently during the night or waking up feeling tired, try out some of these tips for improving your sleep quality.
- Be as consistent as possible. Try to set a bedtime routine. Aim to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day.
- Optimize your sleeping environment. Ensure that your bedroom is dark, cool, and has as little light as possible. Too much light can cause your body to shut off melatonin production and recommendations for room temperature for sleep are surprisingly cool.
- If possible, reserve your bed for sleeping and romance. This may help prevent associations with work and stress. If you are chronically ill or disabled and must stay in bed in order to work, set clear boundaries around work and establish routines to help you transition between work and relaxation mode.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and eating close to bedtime. Non-caffeinated teas like chamomile, however, may help you fall asleep. If night-time bathroom trips are an issue, limit fluid intake after dinner and before bed.
- Take a hot shower or bath 1-2 hours before bed. Doing so is not only relaxing, but also helps stimulate the pineal gland to produce melatonin as your body temperature drops following your shower or bath.
- Limit blue light exposure. Try to refrain from using cellphones, laptops, and televisions 30 minutes before bed.
- Talk to your doctor. They may be able to help you identify and resolve health and medication-related reasons for sleeping problems. Keeping a sleep diary may help your doctor determine a cause. They may also refer you to a sleep clinic for overnight assessment for common sleep disorders.
- Reach out to one of our counselors or psychologists. Some therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can be an effective treatment for some individuals struggling with insomnia. If you are experiencing this or other issues that are preventing sleep, feel free to book an appointment with us in Tokyo, Okinawa, or online.
Overcoming Insomnia by Colin Espie (Book)
Sleep Education – The American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Try out one of these sleep apps, which offer guided meditations, sleep diaries, and calming audio resources to help you fall asleep or monitor your sleep quality.
How to Sleep Better – The Mental Health Foundation (UK)