How to Catch More Zzz's and Feel Better

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Sleep deprivation is harmful to both body and mind. In fact, fatigue can have the same effects as being intoxicated. There are more than 70 different types of sleep disorders and 50-70 million adults experience disordered sleeping in the United States. An existing mental health issue makes it more likely that a person will experience sleep concerns-- for instance, trouble sleeping is often a symptom of depression and anxiety and sleep problems are often co-occurring.

There are several different symptoms of sleep deprivation:

  • Irritability and moodiness

  • Inability to concentrate or learn

  • Forgetfulness

  • Lack of motivation

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Increased appetite

  • Higher blood pressure

  • Inflammation

  • Hormonal disruption

  • Clumsiness

When we talk about sleep disorders, most people think of insomnia. Insomnia is, in its simplest explanation, the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The range of sleep disorders expands far beyond that.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects one in five adults. A blockage in the throat leads to excessively loud snoring and some people even stop breathing multiple times a night. A continuous positive airway pressure (or CPAP) machine opens the throat for steady breathing throughout the night.

Restless limb syndrome is a little-understood disorder where the person experiences an irresistible urge to move their legs or arms. The excessive movement disrupts the overall quality of the person’s sleep and can even wake them up in the middle of the night. About 10 percent of the population, mostly women, experience RLS.

REM sleep behavior disorder is a lot like restless limb syndrome. A person with REM SBD experiences sudden and intense movement during sleep. They may thrash violently, jump out of bed, and even tackle furniture. However, less than one percent of the population experiences this very rare disorder.

Other sleep disorders are easily recognized: night terrors, sleepwalking, narcolepsy and teeth grinding are pretty much all a part of our shared lexicon. If you experience any type of sleep disorder, it is important to talk to your doctor about it. Two of the things nearly every health expert will recommend is making changes to reduce stress in your environment and establishing a consistent nighttime routine.

Tips for a Soothing Bedroom and a Consistent Bedtime Routine

For a comfortable bedroom, invest in comfortable bedding and pajamas. Decorate minimally to reduce distractions and consider hanging blackout curtains that block outside light. Make sure the temperature is on the cooler side -- a bedside fan does the job while also producing white noise that helps you sleep soundly.

Having a consistent bedtime routine is the key to healthy sleep. Give yourself about two hours before bed to unwind. Consider taking a warm bath to raise body temperature. After you get dressed and settle down in your cool bedroom, the drop in temperature makes you feel drowsy and you fall asleep easily.

Remove blue light emitting electronics from your bedroom. Blue light disrupts melatonin production in the brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night. Instead of spending that time before bed scrolling through Instagram, read a book. Reading before bed mitigates anxiety, reduces cortisol, and enhances sleep.

Other healthy bedtime habits:

  • If you are hungry or have a craving, indulge in a healthy bedtime snack. It’s better to feel satisfied than failing to fall asleep because you feel deprived. However, do not drink alcohol before bed. Alcohol can cause a spike in blood sugar that wakes you up in the middle of the night. Also avoid caffeine and nicotine, as they are stimulants.

  • Try out some bedtime yoga poses that relieve mental stress and relax the body. Be sure to focus on breathing to help ease your mind into a meditative state.

  • While it won’t make you fall asleep, taking magnesium before bed can help alleviate feelings of anxiety that lead to insomnia. Magnesium also contributes to muscle relaxation, which can be helpful for those with restless limb syndrome.

Sleep deprivation can have severe effects on a person’s mental health. There are many different sleep disorders, but a healthy sleep environment and bedtime routine can be helpful for all of them. If sleep problems persist, consult your doctor about further actions you should take.

Written by Brad Krause. He graduated from college in 2010 and went straight to the corporate world at the headquarters of a popular retail company. But what started as a dream job soured quickly. After four years of working 15-hour days and neglecting his health, he decided enough was enough. Through aiding a friend during a tough time, Brad discovered his real calling--helping people implement self-care practices that improve their overall wellbeing. He created to share his own knowledge and the many great resources he finds on his self-care journey.