Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and it is necessary for physical growth and mental health. The problem is that many people don't understand the consequences of not getting enough sleep until they suffer from them.
Sleep deprivation may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. This article discusses how sleep impacts your health and provides 11 natural ways to fall asleep and improve your quality of slumber — so you get the rest you need!
What is sleep deprivation and what are the consequences?
The consequences of sleep deprivation are serious and can last for a long time. Without adequate and quality sleep, people usually feel moody, cranky, depressed, and their brain doesn't work as well.
It appears that sleep problems alter a person's metabolism by changing hormone levels, eating habits, nervous systems and more. In addition to this, shift work can cause negative effects on your circadian rhythm. The sleep-wake cycle is one of the most well-known circadian rhythms. This 24-hour internal clock controls many essential functions and processes in our bodies, such as when we feel tired or hungry.
Sleep and mental health are inextricably linked. Many if not all mental illnesses are connected to sleeping difficulties, according to contemporary ideas. Although sleep has long been considered a secondary consequence of psychological issues, contemporary viewpoints maintain that it plays an active and causal role in the development and persistence of psychological problems.
Poor sleep is connected to a variety of mental health issues. In a controlled study, improving sleep was found to benefit psychological wellbeing.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to cancer. A review of epidemiological research revealed a link between long sleep duration and colorectal cancer, as well as an inverse association with hormone-related malignancies, including those in the breast.
More studies with larger sample sizes, extended follow-up periods, more cancer types and comprehensive sleep duration measurements are necessary to prove this finding.
How much sleep do you really need?
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) released a report, "Sleep in America," pointing to alarming sleep deprivation trends. The survey included responses from 1,500 adults and 500 teens queried about their sleep habits, sleep quality and nighttime behaviours.
"What was most surprising to me is how many people are not sleeping the right amount of time, or they're just getting poor quality of sleep," said Dr. David Cloud, chief medical officer at NSF and lead author of the study.
Research has found that about two-thirds of American adults are chronically sleep-deprived due to infrequent or disrupted sleep patterns. That means they get less than the six to eight hours recommended by experts for optimal health and functioning.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that healthy individuals require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night to function properly without side effects from sleep deprivation. Babies, young children, and adolescents need even more sleep than this to enable their growth and development. People over the age of 65 should get 7-8 hours of shuteye every night.
In the "Sleep in America" poll, respondents reported an average of 7 hours and thirty-six minutes per night. However, 35% reported their sleep quality as "poor" or "only fair." Health was closely linked to sleep quality, with 69 % of those who had poor sleep quality also reporting "poor" or "only fair" health and 27 % reporting otherwise "good" health.
The NSF report suggests this could be a public health issue, given the established link between sleep deprivation and chronic diseases like diabetes, depression and heart disease. The survey associates lack of sleep with increased stress and dissatisfaction with physical and emotional health and overall quality of life.
11 natural ways to improve your quality of slumber
To naturally improve shuteye, some effort is required. Here are 11 natural ways to fall asleep.
1. Go to bed at the same time every night
It is important to go to bed at the same time each night. This way, your sleep cycle can be regulated, and your body can work towards balancing natural cycles.
Sleep hygiene is the practice of having a healthy sleep regimen. You're more likely to achieve it if you make sleep a priority. This means turning off your lights eight hours before your alarm is scheduled to go off. It's seven days a week, whether you work or not.
Many people find that they cannot sleep if they take naps during the day, so try limiting your nap times or avoiding naps altogether.
2. Balance your blood sugar level
There is an upward spiral of fatigue and blood sugar associated with poor sleep.
Sleep deprivation causes increased glucose levels in the bloodstream, which are then worsened by poor sleep quality due to lack of restorative sleep.
Eating whole fruits (with skin) and reducing refined (highly processed) carbohydrates can help regulate blood sugar levels. Avoid juice in favour of eating the actual fruit itself to get more fibre, which helps with managing blood sugar levels.
Make sure you're eating some protein with each meal and snack. Consider including foods that are plant-based, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds, and tofu - with less emphasis on eggs, fish, poultry, and red meat.
3. Exercise regularly
Do not be afraid to go outside - the sun and fresh air will do you good. When you're outside, there's more oxygen than in your bedroom because it isn't an enclosed space. The extra oxygen results in increased serotonin levels which makes us feel calm and relaxed.
Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes your mood, feelings of well-being and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body by enabling brain cells to communicate with each other as well as helping you sleep, eat and have a good digestive system.
Exercising, in general, is also shown to help speed up falling asleep at night; however, this isn't true for all types of exercise! It seems like a heavy workout might make people sleep worse because they're so restless from overworking their muscles.
4. Practice relaxation techniques
You can make it easier to fall asleep by adopting some natural relaxation methods. These also help to manage stress. Breathing exercises, along with yoga and meditation, are excellent ways to unwind before bed. They also work at any time of the day not just at night when you're trying to sleep.
Breathing as a form of relaxation has many benefits. Deep breathing improves oxygen movement throughout your body; it has a relaxing effect because it increases circulation.
When choosing how best to breathe, there are two major types: breathing with your abdomen or chest. The best type may vary for each person, so try both ways and see which one feels natural for you.
Remember, breathing exercises are meant to be executed in a natural position where possible, so remove your shoes and sit comfortably in a chair with both feet on the ground or sit on the floor.
If you're lying down, lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides. Your natural tendency will probably be to tighten (or grip) some muscles when you breathe; avoid this instinctive impulse and instead allow your muscles to relax as much as possible.
5. Try natural remedies
Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. It also has antioxidant properties, which may provide further benefits to your health, especially in mitigating the effects of jet lag.
Melatonin is considered a safe and effective treatment for insomnia. It does not cause addiction or other significant adverse effects. However, its long-term side effects are still unknown because studies at this point have been limited to small-scale clinical trials.
Chamomile (typically found in chamomile tea) is an herb that has been used for centuries to relax the body and mind, making it easier to sleep.
According to two randomized controlled trials (here and here), chamomile extract may improve sleep quality in older adults considerably. This systematic review and meta-analysis indicate that chamomile appears to be effective for sleep quality.
6. Avoid caffeine before bed
Caffeine is great for wakefulness and energy, but it can have a negative effect on sleep quality. Drinking coffee past the early afternoon hours may cause your natural cycle to be interrupted because caffeine takes 6 hours to process out of your system
which could lead you not getting enough restful sleep
Caffeine can be found in many foods and beverages, and it's important to learn how much of the stimulant you're ingesting. You could find yourself becoming reliant on caffeine if your intake is too consistent or excessive; getting more than 300 milligrams per day has been linked with a dependence syndrome similar to that associated with alcoholism.
These are some sources of caffeine worth being wary about:
- Energy Drinks
- Some teas
- Certain brands of chewing gum
Caffeine has a direct effect on the sleep cycle. It makes it take longer for someone to fall asleep and reduces how long they can sleep. Caffeine might make them believe that they had a terrible night's sleep because of its effects on their perception of time spent sleeping
7. Keep a sleep journal
When you start on the road towards healthy sleep, keep an accurate record of how often you sleep, how long each episode lasts, and any factors that may be affecting your sleep quality. This is a helpful way to track what works and doesn't when it comes to better slumber.
Start by writing down the following:
- The date
- How long you slept for
- What time you went to bed
- What your room was like
- How rested you felt after waking up?
- How tired you actually felt throughout the day?
If certain factors, such as alcohol consumption or stress, may have impacted your sleep quality, make this note. The more detailed you get with your records, the easier it will be to track progress over time.
8. Let natural light in
Expose yourself to natural sunlight during the day. Make sure you allow natural light in through your bedroom window at night. This is a natural cue that will improve your sleep quality. If possible, leave your curtains open while you're sleeping so that you can get natural light as soon as you wake up.
Here are a couple more ideas:
- Enjoy a window seat and use it for reading or relaxing near natural light sources.
- Use blinds instead of drapes - this will help keep out unwanted heat during summer months but still let in natural light during winter months when you need it most!
9. Turn off all screens before bed
This barrier to sleep will impact your quality of slumber. The blue light from your phone's display inhibits the synthesis of melatonin, the sleep-wake cycle hormone (aka circadian rhythm). It makes it even more challenging to fall asleep and get up the next day.
You should lower the brightness level on electronic devices so they don't interfere with your natural light/dark schedule. Unplug or cover up any unnecessary electrical sources to reduce your exposure to artificial light. This includes devices such as microwaves, TVs, and stereos.
10. Avoid eating for at least two hours before bedtime
Your digestive cycle can interfere with your sleep schedule, so it's best to avoid eating for a few hours before you go to bed. Avoid foods containing high amounts of sugar and fat, as well - since these can cause heartburn which can make sleeping more difficult.
11. Include tryptophan-containing foods in your diet
As a natural sleep inducer, tryptophan can be found in various food sources. It is also considered to be one of the best dietary protein options as well! Eating these foods may help you fall asleep at night more easily.
Foods that contain natural levels of tryptophan include:
- Seeds and Nuts
- Fruits: apricots, guavas, peaches, strawberries, kiwi, grapefruit, avocado, watermelon, papaya and more!
Although it may feel like a luxury, getting enough sleep is crucial for your well-being. If you don't get the right amount of sleep, it can affect more than just how rested you feel; there are natural ways to fall asleep faster at night that might help too.
You may think getting a good night's rest would be easy - but many factors come into play when trying to improve your quality of slumber. We've outlined 11 tips on natural ways to fall asleep. We hope these tips will give you some insight into what could be affecting your own sleep schedule and make improvements to have a healthier lifestyle overall.
For those who still have trouble falling asleep, despite making natural adjustments - visit your doctor.
Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.