Getting regular sleep offers multiple benefits. Studies show time and again that consistent “go to bed” and “rise from bed” times are associated with better sleep quality. Regular sleepers enjoy better moods, better cognitive and physical movement, and better overall performance.
Understand the Sleep Process
The two processes that regulate both the timing and length of sleep are Circadian regulation and homeostatic control, also known as the two-process model of sleep. Yes, we are getting sciencey on you!
Many other factors can affect sleep, such as environment, stress, and medication or alcohol.
Circadian regulation refers to our internal clock. This clock regulates and controls our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. In the absence of light, melatonin is produced promoting sleep, but in the presence of light, the production of melatonin stops, signaling our brain that it is day and we need to wake. Our own behaviors can override these natural signals. For example, bright light during the night shuts down the production of melatonin, delaying sleep. Yes, that means stop looking at your screens late at night!
Homeostatic control promotes sleep based on the amount of time that we spend awake. While awake our brain accumulates substances that promote sleep, when we sleep these substances clear and we feel alert again. This process is particularly important when we take naps in the afternoon, because we deplete the sleep-promoting substances, and we are not able to fall asleep at a reasonable time in the evening.
10 steps to achieve healthy sleep
The World Sleep Society recommends the following:
- Practice a set bedtime and a time to wake.
- When napping, do not exceed 45 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime.
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
- Use comfortable bedding and sheets.
- Enforce a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated.
- Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
- Reserve your bed for sleep.