During a global pandemic, it is important to do everything you can to keep your body healthy. Eating well, keeping up with your hygiene and exercising are healthy behaviors to add to your routine if you have not done so already.
But one behavior that is equally—if not even more—important is finding ways to get a good night’s sleep.
Quality sleep can be challenging during stressful life events and times. Unpredictable work hours, managing family responsibilities and a social life can compromise our ability to find and maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
However, consistent, quality sleep is essential in keeping our immune system strong. To do so, health experts recommend aiming for seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. Being able to sleep this amount of time helps recharge your body and keep you healthy.
Jennifer Rose V. Molano, MD, UC Health neurologist, affiliate of UC Health Integrative Health and Wellness, and associate professor in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, explains, “Optimal sleep assists with regulating all of the systems in our body and is essential in optimizing our ability to maintain alertness and energy while we are awake.”
Have you ever tried going through the motions of your day after a lackluster night of sleep? It becomes difficult to focus. You may even feel groggy and short-tempered.
If you continue depriving yourself of sleep, it can lead to several troubling symptoms, such as weight gain, puffy eyes and acne. There are even more serious long-term health issues that arise with chronic sleep deprivation that include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure or stroke.
The Health Benefits of Sleep
So why does sleep help us so much? During a healthy night of sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which can help promote sleep. Certain cytokines also assist in regulating your body’s response to disease and infection.
Think about how a good night’s sleep can help you feel like a brand-new person. You feel alert, refreshed and ready to take on your day. There are many benefits to a good night’s sleep.
- Strengthens immune system: After a busy day of commuting, working and managing your responsibilities, your body needs time to rest, which is why we start to feel tired. Sleep strengthens your body’s immune system response by allowing the proteins and cells in your immune system to attack germs that may be infecting you.
- Reduces stress: A hormone called cortisol rises when you are stressed, which stimulates alertness and raises your heart rate and blood pressure. Poor sleep can lead to a rise in cortisol levels when they should actually be low. To help balance everything out, sleep is the answer. Quality sleep helps calm and restore your body while improving concentration, regulating your mood and sharpening your decision-making.
- Improves mental health: If you are experiencing sleep problems, then you may increase your risk for developing mental illnesses. Sleep disruption can affect levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, which impairs thinking and emotional regulation. Sleeping well helps alleviate these physiological problems.
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
There is no universal answer on how to get a good night’s sleep. Everyone has different methods that works for them.
One solution that is suggested by health experts, though, is developing a consistent sleep routine. A sleep routine should be simple changes in your behavior that help establish consistent sleep patterns. Frequent suggestions include:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule: Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. While your schedule may be busy, being consistent about the time you fall asleep will help your body recognize a routine in which it can start to ease and relax. You might be thinking that it’s easier said than done, and you’re absolutely right. However, there are certain routines and strategies that can help you wind down and prepare your body and mind for sleep.
- Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime: Food can sometimes be a coping mechanism especially in times of stress, as well as a way to improve immune function with nutrients. Whether you are stressed or worried you aren't getting enough vitamins, try not to find relief by stress eating right before you go to sleep. While you may be nourishing your body with a large meal, digesting food will often keep you awake at night and work against the beneficial immune boost that sleep provides.
- Bedroom temperature: Make sure your bedroom temperature is at a preferred setting that helps you sleep. Body and bedroom temperature can influence your sleep quality. Health experts suggest people typically experience more quality sleep in cooler temperatures (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit) rather than warmer temperature settings.
- Use low lighting in the evenings: As you prepare for bed, make it a habit to start diming lights around the house. This can help signal to your body that things are calming down, and you should, too. If you have color-changing lights in your home, using warmer colors like orange or red light, which mimics the spectrum of sunset, helping to induce relaxation.
- Avoid screen time: Watching television, using your computer, cellphone or tablet in the bedroom may lead to sleep trouble. The light from these devices can make it difficult for you to fall asleep, as “blue-violet” light, especially artificial, is a key ingredient for inducing wakefulness. This is the opposite of what you want for quality sleep.
- Avoid alcohol: Having a few drinks at night can disrupt your ability to sleep and may even increase symptoms of sleep apnea or snoring. While a glass of wine might appear to induce sleepiness, try to keep alcohol consumption in line with your last large meal of the day, as it can interrupt deep sleep.
- Don’t consume caffeine late in the day: Whether it is coffee, tea or energy drinks, if you consume caffeinated beverages later in the day, then the caffeine will stimulate your nervous system and may prevent you from relaxing at night. Everyone metabolizes caffeine a bit differently, but if you intend to be asleep by 10 p.m., we advise you do not ingest caffeine after 2 p.m. that day.
Establishing a sleep routine can be helpful, as it is a simple change in your behavior to help your body recognize it is time to relax and go to bed. However, if you find that you suffer from insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, then it may be beneficial to consult with a physician on establishing the best sleep methods that work for you.
Give the Gift of Sleep
Good, quality sleep is really important in keeping you healthy. If you find you are struggling to get consistent high-quality sleep, then consider including different items in your sleep routine that may assist with sleep, in conjunction with optimizing your sleep routine.
There are plenty of options to choose from to help give you or your loved ones the gift of sleep.
- Blackout curtains: Generally, you want your room to be dark, quiet and cool to help get the best possible sleep. Blackout curtains may help block out warming light or even street and city lights, which can disrupt your sleep.
- Blue light glasses or filters: While we recommend avoiding screen time with devices like tablets, cellphones or television screens, some people may find this to be a hard habit to break. If this is so, then consider wearing blue light glasses that may help filter out blue-violet light that will otherwise disrupt your sleep cycle. If you are not interested in having blue-light glasses to reduce blue-light exposure, then there are apps that may assist with this. The apps can be included on your phone or laptop, which will automatically change the screen color as the day goes on.
- Air purifier: Air purifiers help filter out pet dandruff, dust, mold and other allergens. Turning on an air purifier before going to bed can help improve air quality in the bedroom, which leads to a better sleeping environment. In addition, most air purifiers create a soft noise that can help soothe you into getting the healthy sleep you need.
- Weighted blankets: If you find you are struggling to relax before going to bed, you may want to try using a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets can potentially help people reduce anxiety or clam you down to get a better night’s sleep.
- White noise machines: Consider turning on a white noise machine as part of your sleep routine, especially if you live in a busy neighborhood or have loud neighbors. White noise machines act as noise-cancelling devices may help cloak intrusive noises from outside your room.
- Proper pillows for you: Along with having a comfortable mattress, a pillow that suits you is just as important to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. To help, you need to know what type of sleeper you are. Do you sleep on your stomach? Back? Side? Once you know, there are different types of pillows that are specially shaped to align with how you sleep.
- Sleeping masks: Similar to the blackout curtains, sleeping masks may help you get a better night’s sleep by blocking out artificial light. There are plenty of options to choose from, so you can find the right size and fit for you.
- Meditation/mindfulness apps: Given stress can be a sleep disrupter, it may help to use meditation or mindfulness practice to ease nerves and reduce stress overall. Adapting relaxing habits before you go to bed, such as meditating, may help soothe yourself to sleep. There are several meditation apps to use that include sleep-focused guided mediations.
- Tea: Consider drinking sleep-related tea blends as part of your bedtime routine. Avoid tea with caffeine and look for blends that include chamomile, which is commonly regarded as a sleep inducer. Chamomile especially may help as a trigger for your body to start producing melatonin, a chemical found naturally in our bodies that helps trigger sleepiness.
- Sleep journal: Having a nightly routine of journaling can help you get anxious thoughts out of your head and on to paper, especially right before bed. This may help you offload your anxious thoughts and stash them away for the next day.
A good night’s sleep is incredibly important to your health. To be healthy, people commonly adapt diet and exercise routines. We should all consider developing a sleep routine, too.
Whether it’s changing your habits, purchasing sleeping aides or doing both, making sure you get the sleep you need is vital to your immune system and long-term health.