The amount and quality of your sleep impacts your health and safety, your ability to learn and to concentrate, and your quality of life generally. Sleep affects how your memory functions, including before as well as after you encounter a new learning experience. In fact, sleep is of vital importance to your health and wellbeing.
Problems caused by poor sleep
It is essential that your sleep experience is positive and that sleep disruption is minimized. Researchers say an average of between six and eight hours sleep per night is ideal; with less than four hours, your body’s use of insulin may be impaired by as much as 25 percent, which of course can lead to type 2 diabetes as well as other health problems. People aged 40 years or under who get less than five or more than eight hours sleep tend to accumulate visceral fat in the abdomen, irrespective of their diet and exercise regime and whether or not they smoke, and thus gain weight.
Poor sleep can affect your mood as well as your weight; scientists have correlated sleep problems and ongoing insomnia with depression and with heart disease.
Ways to get a good night’s sleep
To improve the quality of your sleep, start with the bedroom itself. This should be a comfortable environment that is cool (about 65ºF/18ºC) and adequately ventilated – too hot or too cold is likely to be distracting and to make you feel tense or irritable. If local external noise is an issue, try recording some soothing sounds or set your radio between stations to generate your own “white noise.” You can always try earplugs if all else fails.
Check that your bed meets your needs – if you find yourself twisting and turning and often wake up with a sore neck or aching back, you may need to experiment with a range of pillows or a variety of levels of mattress firmness. It is worth investing in a quality bed for quality sleep – adjustable beds are ideal for trying out different sleeping positions, or if you have a partner who sleeps differently from you.
Be conscious of the amount of light in your room – darkness is more conducive to dozing off, so if you don’t have heavy drapes or blackout blinds, try using a sleep mask. In the same way, increase your exposure to natural light during the day as this will boost your melatonin levels, allowing you to naturally regulate your wake-sleep cycle.
Early evening activities
In the evenings, avoid eating rich, heavy foods within two hours of going to bed, and be cautious about fatty or acidic foods. Similarly, although alcohol can make you drowsy, it reduces the quality of your sleep and may cause you to wake up later in the night.
Finally, switch off the computer, the TV and any other electronic device you use well before you go to bed. Try taking a warm bath or reading a magazine or book in a soft light instead. This way you are helping your body and your brain to wind down gently before sleep.