You probably already know that your physical health and sleep are closely related. And that a good night of shut-eye gives both your mind and body time to rest, allowing you to wake up feeling alert and fresh in the morning.
But you may not know that your sleeping pattern can also impact your health in a variety of other ways. Not having a stable sleeping pattern can do more than just making you feel lethargic.
Poor sleeping habits and patterns can significantly increase your risk for problems like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and stroke.
Keep on reading to find out more about how your sleep pattern may be impacting your health!
What does science say about the link between stable sleep patterns and your health?
Unfortunately, most of us don’t get stable, good-quality sleep regularly. A whopping 62% of adults worldwide feel like they don’t get enough sleep when they hit the sack.
A good night of sleep for the average adult includes seven to nine hours of shut-eye. But a new study suggests that it’s not just the duration of slumber that’s important. The stability of your sleeping patterns and the quality of sleep you get can also impact your overall health.
The study looked at around two thousand adults between the ages of 45-84. The participants were monitored for roughly six years using wrist monitors to track their sleep patterns.
The researchers found that irregular bed/wake-up times and inconsistent sleep durations put individuals at a higher risk for obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, and other health issues.
Surprisingly, these risks increased by as much as 27% for each hour of variability in sleep routines!
This is especially bad news for those trying to make up for the sleep debt they’ve been accumulating throughout the week. Catch-up and weekend recovery sleep seems to be ineffective in reversing the unfavorable effects of sleep loss throughout the week.
In fact, more often than not, your sleep pattern and circadian rhythms are sent into greater disarray when you return to your regular restricted sleep pattern after the weekend.
Another study supported by the NIH (National Institute of Health) found similar results.
In this study, thirty-six participants were split into three groups. The first group was allowed to sleep a good nine hours each day. The second group (sleep restriction group) was allowed only five hours of sleep each night. The final group (weekend sleep recovery group) slept five hours during the weekdays and was allowed to sleep late on the weekends.
The study found that both the weekend sleep recovery and the sleep restriction groups had lower insulin sensitivity and gained more weight, meaning their body’s metabolism and ability to manage blood sugar was impaired.
How can you sleep better?
If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed when it’s time to catch some Zs, consider following these simple tips to encourage better sleep patterns.
Get yourself screened for sleep apnea
If you feel drowsy and lethargic despite getting enough sleep each night, you might have sleep apnea. It’s a common condition in obese individuals, where your airway collapses as you sleep. This interferes with breathing and causes you to repeatedly wake up each night. But you don’t wake up completely, which is why it’s so easy to miss the condition.
Sleep apnea patients also develop high blood pressure, which is why it’s necessary to seek medical attention for the condition. The first-line treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP device, which ensures your airway doesn’t collapse as you sleep.
Maintain a fixed sleep schedule
You should set aside roughly eight hours for sleep each night.
Hit the sack and wake up at more or less the same time every day. Make sure to limit the differences in your sleep pattern on weekdays and weekends to a maximum of one hour. Consistency reinforces your body’s natural circadian and sleep-wake cycles.
If you don’t get some shut-eye in 20 minutes, leave your bed and do something relaxing to induce sleep. Listen to music or read a good book, then go back to bed when you’re feeling sleepy.
Monitor what you drink and eat
It’s never a good idea to go to bed feeling either completely stuffed or hungry. In particular, try to avoid heavy meals close to your bedtime. The discomfort of having a full stomach might prevent you from falling asleep.
Nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine should be avoided as well. Nicotine and caffeine can act as stimulants and send your sleep cycles into disarray. And although alcohol can make you drowsy, it often disrupts the deeper stages of sleep later on in the night.
Create a sleep-friendly environment
Create a sleep sanctuary. This often means a dark, quiet, relaxing, and cool space.
Unnecessary exposure to light can make falling asleep difficult. Try to avoid looking at screens before bedtime. Consider investing in black-out curtains, earplugs, and other appliances like a fan to create a sleep-friendly environment according to your needs.
Having a pre-sleep ritual that includes calming activities like taking a bath might also help promote sleep.
Curb nap times
Long naps during the day can interfere with your bedtime sleep. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of dropping your daytime naps, then at least try to limit them to roughly half an hour and make sure not to take them late in the day (or close to your bedtime).
Incorporate physical exercise into your everyday routine
Regular exercise can help promote better sleep. However, it’s not recommended to do intense physical activity close to bedtime.
Spending a few hours outdoors each day might help as well!
It’s always a good idea to resolve your concerns or worries before hopping into bed. Consider journaling to write down what’s on your mind to clear up your thoughts and set aside tasks for tomorrow.
Managing stress well makes sleeping a lot easier and effective. Start with the fundamentals like getting organized and prioritizing tasks. Meditation can also help ease your anxiety.