Whether you’re a nighttime shift worker or a self-proclaimed night owl, many people worry about getting enough sleep. After all, consistent good sleep is essential for long-term health and longevity. This is especially for athletes and those who regularly exercise, as sleep is crucial to recovery and optimal performance.
Unfortunately, many people are plagued by sleep disorders and other sleep problems that cause them to sleep poorly, leaving them hazy and fatigued the next day. If you have trouble sleeping and wonder how to sleep longer, here’s a look at the science behind good sleep and our top sleep tips to rest better.
Understanding Common Sleep Problems
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30 percent of the general population struggles with regular sleep disruption. In their 2005 poll, they found one of the two most common symptoms among those who reported sleeping poorly or struggling with insomnia was frequent waking throughout the night.
Waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason can be frustrating and tiresome, but it isn’t uncommon. Anyone who finds themselves waking frequently should look more deeply into the possibility of a sleep disorder. Characterized by trouble sleeping, daytime sleepiness, and insomnia, sleep disorders can affect people in different ways.
For example, sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders that affects an estimated 22 million people, according to the National Sleep Foundation. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea.
The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, is caused by soft tissue collapse in the airway. This contributes to blockages in airflow, leading to loud snoring and breathing interruptions during sleep. Sleep apnea can cause a person to wake throughout the night, preventing them from regularly achieving deep sleep.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?
Sleep needs vary depending on age and activity level. However, adults between 18 and 64 need seven or more hours of sleep per night, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Failing to sleep enough on a regular basis can contribute to a host of physical and mental health problems. Impaired memory, lack of alertness, and relationship stress are just a few ways in which poor sleep affects a person’s quality of life, says Dr. Harneet Walia at the Cleveland Clinic.
The Impact of Sleep Aids
Many people who struggle with sleep turn to sleep medicines. And while natural supplements like melatonin and valerian aren’t necessarily harmful, overly relying on them for long periods of time can negatively impact a person’s sleep-wake cycle.
Since the human body produces melatonin naturally, supplementing too often can cause daytime sleepiness and excessive napping. Moreover, sleep studies show many people take much more melatonin than is needed — sometimes up to 500 times more. At such a high dosage, melatonin can either stop working or lead to increased insomnia. It’s best to start with a dose between 0.2 milligrams and 5 milligrams.
How to Sleep Longer
If you’re in the market for sleeping better, you’re in the right place. Read on for actionable tips on how to sleep longer and feel more rested during the daylight hours.
Create a Bedtime Routine
If you’ve ever had jet lag, you know irregular sleep patterns can severely impact your shuteye. That’s why it’s important to create a sleep routine before bedtime. Whether you have travel plans or you had a bout of insomnia, a go-to routine can help you get back to a healthy sleep schedule more quickly.
The best way to start a bedtime routine is to think of things that make you relaxed. For example, drawing a warm bath may help you wind down and reduce anxiety before bedtime. Another idea is to set out anything you need for the next day the night before.
For example, you might set out your workout clothes for the morning, or choose your office clothes to get ready for work. Packing your bag, preparing the next day’s lunch, and making a morning to-do list can all help make your mornings smoother and reduce bedtime stress about the day ahead.
Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
After you’ve created a bedtime routine, it’s important to get your internal clock back on track. Also known as your circadian rhythm, your internal clock regulates when you feel tired and when you feel alert. While we’re supposed to feel sleepy at night time and wakeful during daylight hours, technology often disrupts this natural cycle.
An easy way to reset your circadian rhythm is to reduce blue light exposure from electronic devices. This is particularly important during the evenings, when your body needs darkness in order to induce its natural melatonin production and support sleepiness.
You may also consider using an alarm clock that wakes you up with gentle light exposure rather than abrupt noise. Commonly known as sunrise alarm clocks, these devices rely on artificial light exposure to gradually wake a person over the course of 30 minutes (or a time period you choose).
“Artificial light, if appropriately timed, may enforce the normal patterns of our body that would exist if we slept in a perfectly natural environment,” says sleep medicine specialist Brandon Peters, MD.
These clocks are designed to help regulate a person’s circadian rhythm and wake them more gently than noise-based alarm clocks. If waking to noisy alarm clocks makes you feel stressed, a light-based alarm clock may be the best way to rise and shine feeling ready for your day.
Daily Habits for Better Sleep
Sleeping better isn’t just about what you do at night. In addition to creating a bedtime routine and regulating your circadian rhythm, regular exercise can ensure you expend enough energy to sleep well and often.
As explained by Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep Medical Director Charlene Gamaldo, MD, exercise helps you fall asleep faster while improving overall sleep quality. While it isn’t clear why exercise boosts sleep, moderate aerobic exercise has been proven to increase slow-wave sleep, the third and deepest stage of non-dreaming sleep which jumpstarts the body and brain’s regeneration cycles. Plus, slow-wave sleep is crucial for mood stabilization, supporting improved mental stamina.
Similarly, guided relaxation techniques have been scientifically proven to reduce sleep problems and help a person stay asleep for longer. Guided sleep meditations can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn deactivates your stressed flight or fight response. This helps lower your heart rate, clear your mind, and steady your breathing to prepare for sleep.
How to Sleep Longer and Live Better
Quality sleep isn’t just important for feeling rested during the day — it’s essential for sleeping well throughout the night. Whether you experience a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, or you wake from time to time during the night, there are myriad ways to sleep longer.
Creating a bedtime routine can help you relax before bed, which can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better throughout the night. Similarly, taking strides to reset your circadian rhythm and get ample exercise during the day will help you maintain restful sleep throughout the night.
If you’ve wondered how to sleep longer and create more energized days, try tracking your progress. Using a fitness tracker like Biostrap can help you put these ideas into action to boost your rest and long-term quality of life.