By the time we reach age 25, most of us have probably experienced the misery of trying to get through a full day’s work, school, or other grownup responsibilities after a sleepless night. We feel drowsy and cranky, and our reflexes and ability to think clearly are measurably decreased.
I get at least a few hours every night, so I’m fine … right?
What we tend to become accustomed to, however, is the equally problematic impact of long-term sleep deprivation. Personal obligations, a fast-paced lifestyle, and erratic schedules often leave us “just a little short” of our ideal amount of nighttime sleep, which can seem harmless on its own, but actually builds up over time and puts us into a chronic state of so-called sleep debt. This type of sleep deprivation is associated with a number of negative health effects, including weight gain, depression, decline in cognitive performance, and a weakened immune system.
For men, there’s an added concern: Chronic loss of sleep lowers testosterone levels, which can dramatically worse all of the above health issues. In addition, low testosterone can cause or aggravate fertility problems and lower sex drive—especially in older men whose levels are already naturally declining.
So what can I do about it?
The problem may seem too big to tackle, especially for people who can’t change their daily schedule on a dime. Others don’t know that they have options to explore besides sleep studies or similar interventions. But there are quite a few simple, common-sense steps you can take first to improve your sleep patterns.
1. Develop healthier sleep habits. Experts say that one of the most effective ways to ensure better sleep is to train yourself in what they call “sleep hygiene”. Sticking to a schedule of set bedtimes and wake-up times as much as possible, keeping your bedroom dark, and reserving your bed for sleeping (not watching TV or other leisure activities) are good ways to help your brain associate certain conditions with sleep.
2. Watch what you eat and drink. Eating heavy, spicy, or sugary foods in the evening can lead to poor sleep, as can drinking alcohol or caffeine too close to bedtime. To sleep longer and more deeply, try cutting off your alcohol consumption and limiting yourself to nothing more than a light, healthy snack for at least four hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeinated beverages for at least six hours before you go to bed. If you smoke, be aware that nicotine is a big factor in poor-quality sleep—so consider having a designated cutoff time in the evening or (ideally) quitting altogether.
3. Make sure you have an optimal place to sleep. Your sleep environment can impact your night’s rest in a number of ways. To ensure the best sleep possible, keep your bedroom well-ventilated and the temperature at a comfortable setting. Eliminate as much light and noise as possible. Leave electronic devices in another room, even for charging. Upgrade your bedding and pillows, if necessary.
4. Consider chiropractic care. Many people report that chiropractic care improves symptoms of certain conditions which interfere with sleep, such as chronic pain, restless legs, or insomnia. If you experience any of these symptoms and want to explore a different avenue for managing them, a chiropractic consultation is a quick and relatively inexpensive option. If you’re already under chiropractic care, ask your provider if you might benefit from a chiropractic maintenance schedule either now or in the future.
If all of the above suggestions seem too simple to work, commit to a short trial period and see how you feel—even two weeks should be enough to tell a difference. You may find yourself feeling more energetic, happier, and healthier than you thought was possible.