— By Joe Lindsey
We all know in a very general sense that better sleep means feeling healthier and better rested. But sometimes it’s easy to lose track of what exactly that means. In this piece we’ll go over a little bit about what sleep truly does for you, and how you can go about improving your sleep habits.
Benefits Of Sleep
- Mental Performance – We’re all generally happiest when we’re at our sharpest – and we’re at our sharpest, unsurprisingly, when we have adequate rest. We actually know this largely through studies that have focused on kids and their performance in school. And those studies have found that a good night’s sleep can translate to improved academic performance. This is helpful to know if you’re still in school or if you’re a parent, but it can also be extrapolated to the “real world.” Simply put, there is no doubting that better sleep means a sharper mental performance, which can make your everyday life far less stressful.
- Physical Health – It goes without saying that your physical health is linked to your happiness. If you don’t feel well, you won’t be at your happiness; if you’re self-conscious about your weight, you’ll likely feel anxious or lack confidence in other areas. And if you’re experiencing specific pain from inflammation or something of the like, you’re liable to be preoccupied on an everyday basis. Sleep can help with all of these issues. Regarding inflammation, it’s actually been shown that sleep leads to a lower level of proteins that are responsible for the problem. As for weight, sleep isn’t necessarily known to affect actual weight loss, but rather where it comes from. Inadequate sleep can lead to a reduction in muscle mass, whereas proper sleep leads to fat burning.
- Stress – In some ways, stress is related to the other categories in which sleep can benefit you. For instance, we just mentioned feelings of anxiety or a loss of confidence related to weight loss issues, which can be solved in part by sleep. But even in a more general sense, we know that adequate, deep sleep relieves stress (and, in turn, blood pressure).
- General Performance – We talked about mental performance as well. But general physical capabilities can be enhanced by better sleep also. This has been shown largely through studies of athletes, which have shown that sleep will boost your athletic performance in several different ways. Athletes who get more sleep are faster, more likely to do strenuous workouts to stay in shape, and better coordinated, to name a few things. These benefits may be more pronounced with athletes than with the rest of us, but they’re still there for anybody. Better sleep means better physical capability, which can certainly keep you cheerful.
Here’s a great resource page on the health benefits of sleep: Why Sleep Matters?
Improving Sleep Habits
- Diet Changes – It’s well known that caffeine can stimulate you and keep you from being able to fall asleep. Therefore, avoiding coffee and desserts heavy in chocolate is generally advisable if you want better sleep. Additionally, nicotine has been known to interfere with sleep, and alcohol too can cause restless nights. Eliminating these things altogether (while healthy) isn’t completely necessary for better sleep, but indulging in them less frequently is advisable, and in particular you should avoid them in the second half of the day as much as possible.
- Sleep Apps – It would be foolish to ignore the ways in which technology can now help us sleep. There is now essentially a full category of sleep apps available in Android and iOS stores, taking the place of clunky sleep sound machines that people used to buy. You can try different options and find one that soothes you, and you may be stunned at the effects. Many of these apps won’t make specific claims about the science behind sleep sounds, or the effectiveness of their own programs. But plenty of customers find that by turning on sounds – rain, ocean waves, animals of the night, general white noise, etc. – they fall asleep more easily and wake feeling more rested.
- VR Programs – Here we’re looking forward a little bit, but the leap from sleep apps to VR relaxation is not a hard one to make. With VR, it’s worth remembering what came before modern games. On the internet, gaming sites were already exploring 3D options. Poker sites were showcasing interactive games hosted by live, professional dealers, and we’ve now seen a casino virtual reality game with similarly interactive poker tables. Niantic had already released augmented reality Pokémon, and we’re now seeing AR creatures taking the world by storm through Android and iOS games. In short, from casinos to augmented reality to most every other kind of game, there have been preludes to VR. Thus, we can expect apps geared toward relaxation and better sleep to be translated in some form to VR. It may not be something you wear all night, but there are already examples of soothing VR apps designed to relax people, almost meditatively, before sleep.
- Environment – Perhaps more important than any other step is to simply create a better environment for sleep. You should make your room as dark as possible, which may mean purchasing new curtains or shutters if necessary, or perhaps even buying a sleep mask, if it’s something you’re comfortable wearing. Additionally, it’s widely accepted that a cooler room tends to facilitate better sleep. And of course, you’ll also want to make sure that your mattress and bedding are comfortable and supportive. While they can seem somewhat gimmicky, mattress companies offering scores and tests to try to customize a better sleeping experience actually tend to know what they’re doing.
Ultimately, this is simply a more complex category than many people realize. As mentioned in the introduction, most people accept that proper sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s natural and logical, and difficult to argue with. But particularly leading the busy lives the 21st century demands of us, many of us don’t really do anything about the knowledge.
The above listed benefits and methods here are by no means exhaustive. The positive effects of adequate rest could fill a 1,000-page book (and probably have), and methods for getting better sleep can differ somewhat from person to person. But hopefully this has demonstrated some of the most important reasons to seek out better sleep, and some of the creative means by which you might do so.
We know sleep is important, but we don’t bother to think about what that actually means, or how to get more of it. If you, or someone you know, suffers from disturbed sleep, here’s our well researched post on sleep science hacks here: 6 Scientific Sleep Hacks.
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Author Bio: Joe Lindsey is a freelance writer and blog contributor. While he often researches fresh topics as needed, the majority of his writing concerns exercise, general wellness, and lifestyle.
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