We’ve all been in the position where we find ourselves feeling run down and achy after a lousy night’s sleep. While sleep is obviously necessary for helping us feel rested, we don’t often think about the effect that sleep has on our overall health. The hustle of our everyday routines can be hard on us, and many adults have a tendency to take work home with them- whether that’s physical work that we sometimes take home to finish or the mental stress that can come with our jobs. You may have a family that needs your attention, social obligations, or you just might not feel like you’ve had enough time to unwind before bed. Whatever the reason, it is all too easy to put sleep off in favor of taking care of everything else in our lives.

While you sleep, your body is given the chance to reset and recharge for the next day. During sleep, our blood pressure has a tendency to go down. This helps the body regulate its average blood pressure, which in turn lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke. Sleep is also important to our mental well-being. Those who consistently do not get enough rest are more likely to develop mood disorders and other mental health issues. Have you ever gone to bed feeling anxious and woken up feeling much better? That’s because sleep helps our brains process our emotions. It is also important to boost our immune function and prevent illness and fight infection. So if sleep is so vital to us, how can we take steps to ensure that we are not only getting our eight hours a night but also getting the quality of sleep that we need to stay healthy?

Time your caffeine consumption

 This might seem like a no-brainer, but make certain that you don’t consume any caffeine too late in the day. Try to pay attention to the clock when you hit up the coffee machine in the afternoon. If it’s past 3:00, step away. Rather than drinking a late afternoon dose of caffeine, whatever form you chose to take it in, try doing something else to stave off the afternoon energy crash. Take a walk around your office, drink some cool water, or eat a healthy snack for a boost in wakefulness. The natural sugars and fibers in foods like apples and carrots are great for a quick pick me up when that slump hits. 

Limit your screen time

 The blue light emitted by our televisions, phones, tablets, and laptops can be detrimental to both our eye health and our sleep. Even though sometimes it feels relaxing to scroll through our feeds late at night until we fall asleep, this is actually counter-productive. Blue light has been shown to trick your body into thinking it’s still daylight, which in turn inhibits melatonin production (the hormone that helps us get to sleep) and keeps us awake longer. It is suggested to turn off all screens at least two hours before bedtime. If you are the kind of person who needs to do something to unwind before bed, reach for a book (yes, a paper book) instead of a tablet. Reading has been shown to help the mind relax and has the added benefit of helping you learn something new.

Check out your mattress and pillows

 If you find that you are waking up stiff and sore, you may want to take stock of your bed. If your mattress is beginning to sag, is older than 7-10 years old, or hasn’t been rotated regularly, it may be time to replace it. You might also need to look into a softer or firmer mattress, depending on what your body needs. Similarly, if you tend to have a sore neck upon waking, take a look at your pillows. If they are too old or worn out, it might be a good idea to treat yourself to some new ones. Not only will this help you feel more comfortable falling asleep, but making sure that your bed is best suited for your body’s needs will help ensure that you get a higher quality of sleep and wake up feeling ready for anything.

Take a look at your bedroom environment

 Your bedroom should be a place reserved for sleep. If you find yourself feeling tense in your room, something is very wrong. What is the environment in your room like? If it’s too messy, cleaning up will help relax your mind and make your bedroom a more welcoming place. If you often work from home, don’t work in your room. This creates an association in your brain that your room is for working, not for relaxing and definitely not for sleeping. Instead, try to work in a comfortable chair in a room with lots of natural light. Speaking of light, if you have large windows or live in an urban area with a lot of ambient light, you may want to invest in some blackout curtains. Sleeping in total darkness helps your mind relax and can help get your circadian rhythm back on track. 

Exercise regularly

 Regular exercise can help better your sleep quality. When we exercise, it helps us relieve stress from our day to day lives. This, in turn, helps prevent the insomnia that can sometimes be brought on by anxiety. Exercise also helps us to run off energy that we might otherwise not get to use up during long days at the desk. Make it part of your routine to exercise at least four days a week, and soon you will see an improvement in your sleep. Just make sure that you aren’t exercising too close to bedtime–that will end up keeping you awake!

 If you’ve noticed that you haven’t been feeling quite as chipper lately, or that your back has been bothering you when you wake up, don’t be afraid to try these tips. If you find yourself still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may want to consult your doctor. Sleep is our body’s natural reset button, and it’s important to remember to keep up with it just like you would any other aspect of your health.

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