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Sleep’s Role In Physical and Mental Health - Stop Should-ing Yourself (Part 3)

Leanne Potts

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Most people are not getting enough quality sleep at night, and it's bad for health and wellbeing. Learn tips on sleeping longer and better, so you can tackle the tough stuff life throws at you. 


The previous articles in this series talk about the importance of making time for what you want to do as well as what you should do.


But there's one should you need to stick to for your own benefit: You should try to get the best quality sleep you can.


Why? Well, if you're well rested, you'll better be able to meet the demands of your life. You must give yourself self-care before you can be a caregiver to the people in your life who need you.


The Importance of Quality Sleep

Sleep plays a key role in your health. Get too little sleep, and you might get sick, sad and gain weight. Studies have shown that getting less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night increases your risk of developing heart diseasetype 2 diabetesobesitydepression and anxiety.


Sleep deprivation can also affect your brain, causing you to forget things, be less alert, and have trouble learning and solving problems. A National Sleep Foundation Study found that you're three times more likely to get in a car accident if you get less than 6 hours of sleep a night.


Despite all the research, there's an epidemic of sleep deprivation in this country. The 2021 State of America's Sleep Study by the Better Sleep Council shows a 6% increase in poor sleepers since the previous year. Thankfully, this same study also shows the number of excellent sleepers increased 2% in the same time period. There's hardly anyone in the middle anymore. You're either sleeping really well, or you're not.


Americans work a lot of hours – 1,783 hours per year on average, according to the World Economic Forum, almost 30% more work than our friends in Norway, who work an average of 1,384 hours per year. That's not counting the two to six hours per day you spend taking care of children and elderly parents and doing housework after you get home from work. Who has time to sleep?


Americans also worry more. In 2020, a third of Americans reported feeling depressed or anxious, which affects the quantity and quality of sleep.


[Read also: Can 4 Hours of Sleep a Night Be Healthy?]


O.K., O.K. We know you get the point. Getting enough quality shuteye is crucial if you're going to stop should-ing and make room for some wants. We're here to help. Here are some tips for helping whatever amount of sleep you get be the best quality sleep possible:


Enjoy More Sunshine During the Day

Your body has a natural clock that regulates sleep. It's called the circadian rhythm, and it's an internal process that affects your brain, body and hormones, telling your body when to sleep and when to stay awake. Your circadian rhythm takes its cues from light.


For that reason, sunlight can increase your energy during the day and help you sleep better and longer at night.


If you're looking for a data-proven way to sync your rhythm, Sleep Number®  smart bed sleepers who use the bed's circadian rhythm feature improve their bedtime and wake time consistency by 35 minutes for better quality sleep.*


Make it happen: Get full sunlight first thing in the morning, plus exposure to the sun multiple times during the day is ideal. At night, try to be done with screens one to two hours before bed and sleep in a completely dark bedroom.


If that's not possible, try to maximize natural light and mitigate too much artificial light. The key is to be intentional about your light exposure, especially first thing in the morning and before bed. Get out in the sun a little bit every day. Take a walk outside on your lunch break or take your laptop out on a patio and work in the sun.


Turn Your Smartphone, Computer or Tablet to Night Mode

Yes, you may love to sit in bed at night and cruise social media on your phone, play your favorite game or stream the latest binge-worthy show. It's not a good idea, though.


That blue light emitted by the screens of your devices can mess with your circadian rhythm. The glow will trick your body into thinking it's day time, and cause your body to make fewer hormones that help you relax and sleep deeply.


It's best to switch your devices into night mode, or turn off, an hour before bedtime so your body knows it's time to start winding down for bed.


Make it happen: Switch screens to night mode an hour before bed. Did you know the spectrum of blue light emitted from screens (TV, computer, phone) can inhibit the body's production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel sleepy? Switch your phone to night mode to reduce the amount of blue light emissions, and try blue light blocking glasses like these.


No Caffeine After Noon

A late afternoon cup of coffee can give you the energy and focus you need to finish up the day. That's why coffee shops are jammed at 4 p.m.


You might want to rethink this habit, though. The caffeine molecule competes directly with adenosine, an important neurotransmitter connected to sleep. Furthermore, it takes your body eight hours to metabolize caffeine. So if you drink a latte or a caffeinated soda at 3 p.m., half the caffeine from that beverage is still circulating in your body at bedtime.


If you're drinking caffeine after noon, you're all but guaranteeing you won't get quality sleep. You may be so tired that you still fall asleep, but caffeine is going to disrupt your sleep and wake you up and/or disrupt your sleep cycles so you wake up more groggy.


One study showed people who consumed caffeine up to six hours before tucking in for the night had worse sleep quality because they were still buzzed at bedtime.


Make it happen: Assess your caffeine intake, and begin eliminating coffee after noon gradually by stopping 15 minutes earlier each day until you've worked your way to stopping at noon. Replace your drink with non-caffeinated alternatives and stay well hydrated. If you can't make it through the afternoon without coffee, stick with decaf. You can also take a walk or do light exercises to help hit the reset button and feel alert. If you feel like treating yourself, try these warm nightcap drinks for better sleep.


Say No to Long Naps

If you have time for naps, congratulations! But be aware: While short power naps that last less than 30 minutes can make your brain work better, longer naps can confuse your internal clock and make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.


Longer naps can even be counterproductive and make you sleepier during the day.


Make it happen: Skip the nap, and go for a stroll instead, or take a few minutes to do something you want to do — like read a book or paint.


Go to Bed and Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day

That body clock we told you about, the circadian rhythm, likes consistency. It functions on a 24-hour loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset.


You'll help your body's clock work better and you'll sleep more soundly if you go to bed and wake up at similar times, every day.


This means keeping as close to a regular bedtime on weekends, too, if you can. The experts at Sleep Number recommend going to bed within 30 minutes of your normal bedtime. If you go to bed late and sleep late just two days a week, you can suffer from poor quality sleep. Don't beat yourself up if this is hard. Life happens and you have a lot on your plate.


Make it happen: If you tend to go to bed late, change your bedtime slowly, and keep it as consistent as possible. Bedtime reminders on your phone can help, as well as good sleep hygiene.


Set Up Your Bedroom to Be a Sleep Sanctuary

Turn your bedroom into a space for sleeping soundly by controlling three key factors: temperature, noise and light.

  • Temperature: Sleep Number experts recommend sleeping between 65-67 degrees. Keeping your room at a cooler temperature helps signal the release of melatonin, which tells your brain that it's time to go to bed. The data backs this up. Sleep Number SleepIQ® sleepers who say they “sleep cold," tend to get the most restful sleep**. Use a fan to blow the heat away from yourself. Limit caffeine and food close to bedtime, as they speed up your metabolism which creates additional heat. Avoid strenuous activity before bed, which also raises the body temperature. A warm shower or foot bath before bed will also speed up the temperature drop. By letting the water evaporate off your skin, your body temperature will start to drop before you even get into bed.

  • Light: Dim the lights one hour before bedtime to signal to your brain it's time to sleep. Lower your shades so your room stays dark throughout the night.

  • Noise: Turn off the TV and any other devices that will make sudden sounds that will wake you. Live on a busy street? Consider getting a white noise machine, or running a fan to reduce or mask the distracting sounds of the world.


Make it happen: Take your time to get used to the tips above and figure out what works best for you to relax at night. If you can't sleep, get up and do something else for a few minutes (like writing in a journal or reading) before going back to bed.


Exercise Regularly – But Not Before Bed

Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your sleep. Sleep Number's SleepIQ®  data shows sleepers who do gentle exercise (like yoga) are the most restful.**


But don't exercise too late in the day or it could cause sleep problems. That's because exercise prompts your body to produce hormones like adrenaline and epinephrine that will wake you up.


Make it happen: Follow a regular exercise routine that combines cardio and strength. Go for a nice long walk or a bike ride, or find a new hobby that keeps you active (like paddle-boarding or skiing).


Gentle stretching at night is okay, and may help your body prepare for sleep. Try these nighttime yoga poses to do in bed for better sleep.


Get a Comfortable Mattress, Bed and Pillow

You need a high-quality bed to get high quality sleep. Sleepers who routinely use their Sleep Number 360® smart bed technology can get 28 minutes more restful sleep per night — that's up to 170 hours per year!*** That can go a long way to helping you feel your best and stop all that unnecessary should-ing in your life.


Being comfortable extends to sleep temperature. If you sleep too hot or too cold, try regulating with temperature balancing sheets and blankets. See also Sleep Number's Bedding Guide to Help Those Who Sleep Hot or Cold.


Read the other installments in Sleep Number's Stop Should-ing Yourself Series:


Like diet and exercise, quality sleep has a profound impact on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Because no two people sleep the same, Sleep Number 360®  smart beds, with SleepIQ®  technology, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably and provide proven quality sleep. Find your Sleep Number®  setting for your best possible night's sleep, and if you own a Sleep Number®  bed, log in to your InnerCircle Rewards account to see your exclusive offers, refer friends and more.


*Based on SleepIQ®  data from 6/9/20 to 8/15/20 of sleepers who viewed the circadian rhythm feature vs. those who did not.


**Based on SleepIQ® data from 1/2/20 to 1/1/21 and self-reported responses of sleepers using SleepIQ®  technology from 5/12/19 – 1/1/21.


***Based on average SleepIQ® data from 8/1/21 – 2/28/22 of sleepers who engaged with their Sleep Number® setting, SleepIQ® data and FlexFit™ smart adjustable base. 



Leanne Potts is an editor, content strategist and award-winning writer. Her work has appeared in,, Travel, Gardenista, AARP, Sunset magazine, the Chicago Tribune and Slate. 

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