Seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night is crucial for your health and well-being, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Lack of quality sleep severely affects both your physical and mental health. And according to the American Sleep Association, somewhere between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from sleeping disorders. In this post, I’ll dive deeper into this often-neglected topic. I’ll discuss the importance of sleep, the side effects of not sleeping enough – and most importantly, how you can start converting your bedroom and your habits to create your very own sleep sanctuary for optimum sleep and health.
Table of Contents
Why is Sleep so Important?
Our body starts to work at its full capacity as soon as we’re awake, which means we use our muscles and start burning accumulated energy. By the end of the day, this results in minor tissue damage and decreased energy levels.
The process of sleeping heals the body, re-charges it, and simply, prepares it to face the next day.
The healing process: Your body starts repairing itself as soon as you fall asleep. And it continues the process until you are ready to wake up. Your body performs this in multiple 70-90 minutes cycles. These cycles are organized into 2 phases of sleep, where it performs different functions according to the state of your body at a certain time. These 2 phases are the N-REM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) phase and the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase.
NREM: We enter the NREM phase immediately after we fall asleep. We remain at this phase for almost 75% of our sleep duration.
In this phase, the body works on things like:
- Tissue growth and repair
- Restoring energy
- Releasing growth hormone
- Muscle restoration and development
REM: When you are in the REM phase, you have entered the deepest state of your sleep. REM occupies around 25% of your sleep duration.
At this stage, the body transfers the accumulated energy to the brain. Due to this, the brain becomes active, and the eyes start moving back and forth. This is usually the phase where you start dreaming, as your brain is active, and your muscles are relaxed.
7-9 hours of sleep gives your body enough time to complete all the cycles required to fully repair your body. Making this a habit will make you significantly healthier.
Experts also say that a good night’s rest improves your immune system and keeps you from unhealthy weight gain.
Lack of Sleep – Side Effects
Reports say that about 100 years ago, Americans used to sleep an average of 9 hours per night. A recent survey shows that average Americans are now only sleeping for 6.8 hours per night.
Mostly this has to do with the culture developed in recent times where we treat sleep deprivation as a symbol of being productive and hardworking.
This culture is not only damaging our health, but the younger generations are growing up thinking it’s okay to be sleep deprived. This leads them to spending more time on social media, gaming, and binge-watching media content, instead of sleeping early.
Lack of sleep is a serious issue, and it can result in a variety of mental and physical illnesses.
Even if you sleep well, I’m sure you may have experienced a hint of this when you sleep late sometimes or have to wake up early. Throughout the day, you feel stressed, sleepy, and are unable to focus on anything properly.
Sadly, today the majority of people in almost every country live like this.
Some people are compelled to sleep less because of the nature of their job. But for many others, sleeping 7-9 hours seems like a waste of time.
The human body is very adaptable, so the stress, sleepiness, and fatigue will remain only for a few days. After that, your body will stick to this new schedule, and you will start waking up refreshed even after sleeping only a few hours.
This is because it’s easier for your body to adapt to your schedule than to fight it. And, this is what gives people a feeling that sleeping less is completely fine.
However, stress, sleepiness and fatigue are just the minor effects of lack of sleep. There are side effects that are far more dangerous than just not being able to be productive at work. And, your body, by any means, can’t adapt to those side effects.
Side effects of lack of sleep include:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Lowered immunity
- Hormone dysregulation
- Increased anxiety/depression
- Impaired brain function/cognition
- Impaired tissue repair
- Weight management issues
- Decreased endurance and exercise tolerance
- Increased risk of mortality
- And many more.
Some people report that they’re sleeping the recommended 7-9 hours and still feeling tired throughout the day. This is a sign of diminished quality of sleep and the symptoms can be the same as for those who experience insomnia or sleep deprivation.
Chronic Sleep Deprivation
When your body is deprived of sufficient sleep for extended periods of time, that is called chronic sleep deprivation. It’s a very common condition and a very serious problem in today’s society. In simple terms, chronic sleep deprivation means having less than the required amount of sleep for several days resulting in huge sleep debt.
Some of the many reasons of chronic sleep deprivation are:
- Constantly Rotating Shifts
- Sleep Disorders
- Mental Health Conditions
- Fatal Familial Insomnia, etc.
The symptoms of Chronic Sleep Deprivation are dark circles, decreased awareness, constant fatigue, sleepiness, and lack of concentration. This is a condition that can severely damage your physical and mental health.
There are severe sleep disorders that force people to stay awake even if they don’t want to. Some of those disorders are: insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS), narcolepsy, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, and shift work sleep disorder.
However, sleep disorders are not the primary reason why most people are sleep deprived today.
Our daily habits, and our sleep environments are the sources of some of the major causes of this mass sleep deprivation.
Habits That Can Harm Your Sleep
Whether you have sleep disruption, inadequate sleep quality, or even chronic sleep deprivation, it’s possible that changing some relatively minor habits can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep – and your health. Here are a few examples.
Not drinking enough water: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that men should drink at least 3.7 liters of water, and women should drink at least 2.7 liters. Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration, which dries your mouth and nasal passage. This causes sleep-disruptive snoring, parched throat, and hoarseness, which prevents you from having less than perfect sleep. Not only that, but dehydration also compromises your energy, alertness, and cognitive performance. So, make sure to drink at least the recommended amount of water throughout the day.
Checking your phone before bed: Your brain produces a hormone named melatonin when you sleep. This process occurs in response to the darkness and is responsible for the quality of sleep that you get every night. Mobile phones, laptops, and any other device that has a screen produces blue light. Blue light imitates natural sunlight. So, when you use a screen before bed, it makes your brain think it is daytime, and it will not produce as much melatonin even if you manage to fall asleep. This will result in you having a poor-quality sleep and waking up tired. (Which is one reason why we advise you not to sleep with your phone.)
Drinking caffeine before bed: Caffeine temporarily increases your awareness and has major health benefits. But, giving you a good night’s rest is not one of them. Drinking any form of caffeine before bed will reduce your brain’s ability to track how long it has been awake. So, it hinders your ability to have quality sleep. Caffeine usually leaves the system within 5-7 hours, so make sure to stop your caffeine intake at least 5 hours before bed.
Drinking alcohol just before bed: Alcohol does help you fall asleep faster. But it decreases your ability to transfer from the N-REM phase to the REM phase. So, consuming alcohol just before bed lowers your sleep quality, and there are chances that you will wake up tired the next day. Health experts recommend suppressing alcohol intake 2 hours before bed.
These habits are easily manageable, and implementing them today will make your days more energy-filled, and your life healthier.
Environmental Factors That Can Harm Your Sleep
These habits that I mentioned above are an important factor in your quality of sleep. But they are not the only factor. The environment in which you sleep also plays a very large role in the quality of your sleep.
As two obvious examples, if the lighting in your bedroom is too bright, or your mattress is not comfortable enough, you will wake up several times at night. You may not remember waking up, but you will indeed feel the tiredness the next day. These are examples of your environment negatively impacting the quality and amount of sleep you get.
Can Air Quality Affect Sleep?
Yes. Air quality does affect your sleep. The air in average homes contains several allergens, chemicals, and dust that affects your breathing and oxygenation. So, when you breathe this polluted air, it affects your health, and of course, the quality of sleep that you get.
Research suggests that the quality of air inside most homes is far more contaminated than the air outside. The reason behind this is the chemicals and synthetic materials used in daily household items such as carpet, furniture, paint, glues, formaldehyde, and cleaning supplies. Many of us don’t realize, but we bring various toxic items into our homes in the form of everyday household items.
Breathing in this allergen-filled air for a long period can cause sneezing, compromised breathing, and blocked sinuses. In addition, allergens can initiate a histamine response. Histamine is an amino acid that is a part of our immune system. It reacts to foreign particles in our body and tries to protect the body from those particles.
You can tell when histamine is in effect as you’ll get puffy, watery eyes, and an itchy throat. This response occurs anytime a foreign particle like dust and allergens enter your body. It can wake you up in the middle of the night and completely disrupt your sleep pattern.
Now that you know how allergens in the air are a big problem, you should also know that it doesn’t end here.
As I mentioned before, the air in your home also contains toxins. And breathing in those toxins creates its own set of problems. Thankfully, your liver cleans the toxic load when you are sleeping. This process is called detoxification.
For example, your liver detoxifies your bloodstream. Your liver, however, has a limit. If the toxins in your body are more than what your liver can handle, it can compromise the detoxification process. And your brain will also give an inflammatory response when the toxins overload in your system.
So, how do you improve the air quality in your home?
The answer is simple: ventilate. You may not be able to eliminate the toxins, but ventilation will definitely improve the situation. Even so, most people nowadays keep their homes closed due to extreme temperatures.
Instead, open your windows and let the fresh air circulate, and make it easier for the toxins to leave.
We understand that some people may be allergic to pollen and other outdoor molecules. Or, they may be located in a place that has extreme outdoor pollution.
In that case, we recommend investing in a good quality air filter.
You can further improve the air quality by having your ducts professionally cleaned every 2-3 years. Professional cleaners can get rid of building dust, debris, and bacteria in your duct, which will increase the quality of air inside your home.
Can Mold Cause Sleep Issues?
Toxic mold occurs as a result of extreme moisture and dust inside the house. This can be because of cracks on the walls and ceiling that lets unwanted water inside the house. This fungus can substantially decrease the quality of air in your home, resulting in several illnesses and, of course, sleep issues.
To prevent toxic mold from building up in your home, do these things:
- Have good ventilation throughout the house;
- Have good ventilation in the bathroom, in particular, with fans;
- Use the stove-top hood while cooking;
- Maintain a humidity level between 40%-60%.
If you have toxic mold in your home, we recommend you consult a Building Biologist or other professionals for guidance. You may also need to have your entire house professionally cleaned.
Can Electromagnetic Radiation Cause Sleep Issues?
Electromagnetic radiation (or EMF for short) is emitted by every wireless device, electrical wiring, and all electrical appliances. In other words, in today’s society, we are surrounded by EMF.
There are literally tens of thousands of scientific studies demonstrating a wide range of negative health effects from exposure to this type of radiation. Among those negative effects is sleep disruption. The link between EMF exposure and sleep is a very well investigated area of research into EMF health effects going back decades.
As just one of many examples, a 1999 study demonstrated that magnetic field exposure can disrupt sleep, “decreasing total sleep time, decreasing sleep efficiency, increasing time in the second stage of sleep, reducing rapid eye movement (REM), and lengthening the delay to rapid eye movement (R.E.M.) sleep.”
So, EMF disrupts sleep, but it surrounds us. In order to improve the quality of your sleep, you want to have less EMF in your environment. There are many ways to accomplish this. One I mentioned above is not bringing your phone to bed. Another is turning your WiFi off at night.
While EMF surrounds us, there are a lot of easy and effective ways you can reduce how much is in your bedroom while you sleep. I discuss several of those in a separate post.
What is a Sleep Sanctuary?
Now, I’ve just outlined a series of recommendations encompassing both habits and environmental qualities. The more of these that you adopt and follow, the more you are building a sleep sanctuary for yourself – an environment that you can create in your bedroom to make it favorable for having high-quality sleep.
Because, after all, your bedroom should be a sanctuary. A place for your body to rest and recover and prepare for the next day. Your bedroom is different from other rooms, and you need to treat it as such. If your bedroom is not comfortable enough or not optimal for sleeping, it can impact several aspects of your life.
Many prestigious institutions such as NSF (National Sleep Foundation), Telegraph UK, and Building Biology Institute recommend building a sleep sanctuary to improve your sleeping conditions.
While starting the process of building a sleep sanctuary for yourself, you need to focus on three major aspects of your bedroom. Those aspects are the bed you sleep on, the temperature of your room, and the aesthetics of your room.
Did you know that mattresses are supposed to be replaced once every seven years? If you’re like most people, you don’t do this. In fact, many people keep their mattresses for much longer, which results in the mattress deforming and becoming very uncomfortable.
In addition to discomfort, mattresses collect dust mites, skin cells, dander, and mold spores over the years. Sleeping on this kind of mattress will not only prevent you from sleeping properly, but it can also make you sick. So be sure to change your mattress once every seven years. While you are changing your mattress, we recommend you look for a non-toxic one. These may cost you a bit more than a regular mattress, but it is an investment in your good health.
Apart from mattresses, pillows are also supposed to be changed every two years for the same reasons.
And the final step of making your bed best for sleeping is getting sheets that are physically comfortable and visually pleasing.
People often overlook how the temperature of the room impacts the overall quality of sleep. Studies suggest that during the NREM (Non-Rapid Eyes Movement) phase of sleep, the body lowers its temperature. So, if your room is hot, it conflicts with your core temperature, and you will wake up frequently between your sleep cycles.
This optimal sleep temperature is somewhere around 60°F – 68°F (16°C – 20°C).
The third step of building your own sleep sanctuary is to make your bedroom aesthetically pleasing.
Your room should be free from clutter, such as piles of dirty clothes, stacks of books, boxes, and other stuff. Basically, don’t keep anything in your bedroom that you don’t need in your bedroom. You may not realize it, but subconsciously, this clutter can make you irritable and prevent you from fully letting go at night
Your bedroom also needs to be visually pleasing. Paint your walls and ceiling with calm and relaxing colors.
If you’re not allergic to pollen, you can also bring in nature via flowers or plants. Also, make sure to open your windows every morning and let the sunlight inside.
You may not be able to accomplish all these things right away, but you can surely try to tackle the ones you can, now.
Get the Best Sleep of Your Life
Over time, you can use these methods to build your own sleep sanctuary. Now, this is just a starting point. There is a lot more than you can do to convert your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary and improve the quality of your sleep – and your physical and emotional health.
Once you start making these changes, you’ll be amazed at how much of an improvement you’ll see in your sleep. And even better, you’ll start to see the impacts the improved sleep will have in all the areas of your life.