It’s pretty common knowledge by this point that most Americans are not getting enough sleep.
Despite the typical person needing somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, the average American gets a mere 6.8 hours of sleep a night!
While we’ve all heard how serious an issue sleep deprivation can be, however, there’s another issue involving sleep that most people are far less aware of: sleep quality.
Even if you’re getting your full eight hours of sleep every night, if it’s not the kind of high quality sleep you need, you’ll still be waking up every morning exhausted.
Here are some of the best ways to improve your sleep quality – so you can wake up ready to face the day with the kind of energy you need!
Limit Exposure to Light
Excessive exposure to light is one of the leading causes of low-quality sleep.
This has a lot to do with how your brain deals with light and darkness in relation to your sleep schedule.
You see, your body is designed to wake up and power down in response to the rising and setting of the sun.
You start secreting the sleep hormone melatonin shortly after sundown, and its levels in your bloodstream continue to increase until peaking sometime in the middle of the night.
Receptors in the cornea are what trigger your brain’s pineal gland to start secreting melatonin, which is why it’s sometimes called the “darkness hormone.”
To help ensure healthy levels of melatonin in your body when it starts getting close to bedtime, you really want to limit your exposure to light at night as much as possible.
There are a couple ways you may want to go about doing that…
Eliminate Light in the Bedroom
First of all, you’re going to want to block out as much light as possible from your bedroom.
If high light levels come in through your window after sundown, consider investing in a pair of blackout curtains to keep the room as dark as possible.
This can also improve your sleep quality if you tend to be a somewhat late riser, since that sunlight coming in through the window may interrupt your sleep!
Avoid Bright Lights Around Bedtime
As it starts getting later at night – ideally around 2 hours before you’re going to be getting to sleep – you’ll also want to start avoiding especially bright artificial lighting.
Too much light can interfere with the natural release of melatonin, making it harder for you to get to sleep when you want to!
If you have one, turn down the dimmer switch on your main lighting, or just turn on some lamps.
When it’s night, your body needs to be able to know it!
Avoid Electronics, Especially in Bed
Finally, electronics in particular have been shown to have especially harmful effects on natural hormone secretion.
The blue-wavelength LEDs of most modern screens disrupt your sleep cycle worse than any other kind of light, so you want to avoid electronics as much as possible as it starts getting close to bedtime.
This is especially important when you’re in bed.
Although many people use their phones or tablets as an aid when getting to sleep, it’s best to cut yourself off of things like that at least 30 minutes before bed (and ideally, around 2 hours in advance!).
As an alternative, try a more soothing, non-electronic activity such as reading.
Have a Look at Your Mattress
Another major player when it comes sleep quality is your mattress.
Especially if you’re suffering from any kind of joint or back pain, a quality mattress can go a long way toward soothing aching muscles and allowing your body to genuinely relax.
The ideal mattress offers the perfect mixture of comfort and support.
When you lie down, every inch of you in contact with the mattress should be taking the same amount of weight – otherwise, you risk pinching the softer parts of your body against bone, creating painful pressure points.
Pressure points are most often a concern if your mattress is too hard, since you end up crushing areas of yourself in ways they aren’t meant to be crushed.
If your mattress is too soft, however, your back is going to wind up bowed uncomfortable when you lie down, resulting in soreness and muscle pain on waking up.
When you go to sleep, your spine should rest in a comfortable S-shaped curve – just like when you’re standing up straight.
By improving the quality of your mattress, you stand to drastically improve the quality of your sleep.
When to Replace Your Mattress
Most people are pretty reluctant to replace their mattresses until they’re pretty much impossible to sleep on.
Most experts agree that you should replace your mattress about once every 7 to 10 years (although that varies somewhat based on quality and materials).
Many people, however, shy away from replacing this vital piece of furniture because of how expensive many of these things are when you buy them in brick-and-mortar showrooms.
Some of these things run upwards of a couple thousand dollars – and even once you finally purchase one, it’s often impossible to know whether your mattress will really stand up to the test of time.
Thankfully, however, many of the newest and most innovative mattress manufacturers are actually steering clear of traditional showrooms, instead preferring to sell their products entirely online.
By cutting out the middleman, this tactic makes the buying process both less expensive and more fair.
Not only do the companies not have to pay all the overhead fees that come with physical buildings, but the consumer also gets access to a ton of others’ online reviews.
Be Careful With Your Napping
Finally, another common problem for those looking to improve their sleep quality is habitual midday napping.
Although napping in itself isn’t necessarily bad, the way many people do it ultimately ends of decreasing the restfulness of their nights.
This is particularly true if you’re falling asleep in the evenings for an extended period of time.
A successful sleep cycle requires a pretty strong sense of routine.
If you want your body to be able to properly anticipate when and for how long to go to sleep, you should be getting to bed and waking up at more or less the same time every day.
Naps – especially lengthy, sporadic, unplanned naps – can throw off this entire schedule.
How to Nap Properly
The Mayo Clinic recommends getting no more than 10 to 30 minutes of sleep to see the best results without impacting later sleep quality.
Additionally, you’ll want to take your nap sometime between 1pm and 3pm to avoid hurting your chances of sleep later that night.
If you got a seriously pathetic amount of sleep last night and are just dying to catch up on some of it, you’ll still want to avoid naps between 30 minutes and 90 minutes in length.
This is because after 30 minutes of sleep, your body slips into REM sleep – the deepest and most important sleep stage of all.
If you wake yourself up during this stage, you’ll be groggy and unhappy for a long while afterward – potentially up to several hours afterward.
The Benefits of Napping
Now, to be clear, none of this is to say that you shouldn’t nap at all!
When done properly naps have actually been shown to increase alertness and productivity throughout the day.
Your body naturally starts feeling tired between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, and by nabbing a couple extra minutes of shut-eye then, you can cram in a bit of high-quality sleep that’ll have lasting effects for hours to come.
Of course, you can’t expect naps to make up for a good night’s sleep altogether (unless you’re dabbling in some kind of polyphasic sleeping – but that’s a story for another time).
However, the right kind of napping can both jumpstart your afternoon and make up for a few minutes of lost sleep the night before – all without cutting into your sleep quality later that night!
How Caffeine Improves Naptime
If you’re a bit of a habitual napper, you might want to consider upping your sleep game with the power of the caffeine nap.
This involves simply drinking a cup of coffee before settling in for your doze.
The length of your ideal nap – around 20 minutes – is about the same amount of time it takes caffeine to finish hitting your bloodstream after you’ve taken it in.
This counteracts the typical grogginess (or “sleep inertia”) many experience after sleep, making you almost immediately ready to get on with the rest of your day!
By following these easy tips, you’ll be improving your sleep quality in no time.
Stop settling for grumpy mornings and lazy afternoons.
Just give yourself the conditions you need to get high-quality sleep, and your body will take care of the rest.
A good night’s sleep is one of the best and simplest ways to improve your quality of life, so it just makes sense to take this stuff seriously.
Be good to your body.
After all, it’s the only one you’ve got!