If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep all night, you’re all too familiar with the short-term effects of a bad night of sleep, like being groggy and irritable and having trouble concentrating. But those are nothing compared to the long-term health risks of poor sleep, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a weakened immune system, an increased dementia risk and a higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The good news is there are simple lifestyle changes that can help to undo those negative health impacts. Research shows you can negate the damage of poor sleep with these.
- Do some exercise the morning after - It’s probably the last thing you want to do, but exercising can help with insomnia, as well as lower the elevated heart disease risk caused by chronic sleeplessness. According to one study of more than 92-thousand adults, working out for two and a half hours a week is all it takes. And to maximize the benefits, exercise outside in the morning to get that light exposure.
- Don’t nap - It’s tempting when you can’t stop yawning, but daytime snoozing isn’t advised. Instead sleep experts recommend keeping a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to keep your internal body clock on track.
- Avoid sugary carbs - Research from Columbia University finds that a diet high in refined carbs and sugar can damage sleep quality further, which may be because a sharp rise and fall in blood sugar levels can lead to sleep being interrupted by the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
- Don’t be tempted to perk yourself up with coffee - At least not in the afternoon, as research shows that even a moderate amount of caffeine six hours before bed can have a significant negative impact on sleep quality.
- Break the worry cycle - The thing is, worrying about sleep makes you less likely to get it. If you have chronic disrupted or poor-quality sleep, do something to change it, but don’t obsess because that won’t help. “The human brain and body can adapt to all sorts of changes; one night’s poor sleep, or even a short period of very disrupted sleep, is not going to fundamentally have major long-term effects,” explains Dr. Guy Leschziner, a neurologist and head of The Sleep Disorders Centre in England. “Obsessing about sleep is potentially going to make insomnia worse.”