As health sciences continue to progress, it becomes increasingly clearer that we do not put sleep on the pedestal it deserves. While feeling tired and groggy all day may be why you hate not getting enough sleep, that only scratches the surface of all the associated negative side effects.
Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even decreased sex drive are just a few of the health issues related to not getting enough sleep. What’s even worse? There’s a good chance that many of you reading aren’t getting enough sleep.
While sleep needs can vary from person to person, Matthew Walker, a leading scientific figure on healthy sleeping habits, says that most people actually need 7-9 hours of sleep/night. Sound like a little more than what you get on average? You’re not alone.
We can do better, and we deserve better! I’ve done some research and practiced on my own, and I’ve found these 5 steps you can take toward getting better sleep:
- Go to bed & wake up at the same time every day
After some basic research, this simple idea significantly impacted my sleep schedule once I implemented it into my life and stayed consistent. It has to do with our circadian rhythm– aka our inner clock.
Aside from biological reasons, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day provides a level to consistency to your life that may not happen anywhere else. Self admittedly, I follow this plan during weekdays only, usually waking up at 7:00 AM. However, since I’m usually up later on weekend nights, I allow myself to sleep until 8:30 on Saturday and Sunday to make up for the lost sleep.
If you’re interested in learning more about waking up at the same time to support your natural circadian rhythm, check out Brandon Peter’s thoughts on why this is important and how to make the habit stick.
- Daily exercise (preferably not right before bed)
Sleep and exercise are like PB&J, cheese and crackers, or whatever cliché pairing comes to your mind. While sleep experts and researchers are not sure of the exact mechanisms that relate the two, studies show that exercise decreases insomnia and other sleep complaints.
We know that moderate aerobic exercise increases “slow-wave” sleep, also knows as “deep” sleep. It also raises your body temperature and releases endorphins, which can help stabilize and prepare your mind for rest at night. However, the release of these endorphins can create brain activity, which may keep some people awake. Not everyone struggles with sleeping after a workout, so this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
But, if you are finding it difficult to fall asleep at night, AND choose to workout in the late afternoon, then you may want to try exercising earlier in the day and see if your sleep improves.
- Limit your caffeine intake
If we want to optimize our sleeping schedule, it’s probably a good idea to not pump our bodies full of a drug which stimulates alertness and mental performance. The funny thing is that caffeine and sleep have an inverse relationship: the need for one goes down when the consumption of the other goes up (or at least that’s what we may think- in reality, sleep negates caffeine, not the other way around).
We’ve all been there- cramming for a final all night or working around the clock to meet a deadline. We don’t get enough sleep, making it difficult to stay awake, and so we reach straight for the coffee, Red Bull, Monster, or whatever your energy fix may be. We do this, and repeat, and repeat again until we’re in a quick downward spiral consisting of way too much caffeine and too little sleep.
If we aren’t careful, our normal lives WITHOUT trying to rush to meet a deadline can go down this path. The caffeine not only makes us feel more alert, but it actually resets our circadian clock. If we want to maximize the benefits we receive from sleep, then it’s an excellent idea to limit the coffee, energy drinks, etc.
- Develop a nighttime routine
We are creatures of habit, and using this natural inclination to stick to a schedule can provide some serious benefits for falling asleep. Developing a normal nighttime routine allows your mind and body to decompress from the day, relax, and prepare for a good night of sleep.
There’s no one specific routine to which you must adhere in order to have a solid nightly routine- just pick something that works for you. You probably want to look for activities which promote peace and calmness rather than chaos, so jamming out to your favorite music or watching a big game (while certainly warranted on occasion) isn’t the best way to settle down.
If you’re struggling to come up with ways to end your day, watch Tim Ferris’evening routine video to help spark some ideas:
- Turn off screens 30 minutes before bed (I’m TERRIBLE at this)
To be perfectly honest, I feel like a hypocrite even typing this out, because I am absolutely horrendous with this one. Probably 5-6 nights a week, I fall asleep while watching YouTube videos or some other form of entertainment. You don’t have to do much digging to find out that there’s not much worse we can do for our sleep schedule.
(In case you don’t have time to “dig”, here are a couple of sources:
There you go- check them out!)
If you are struggling to fall asleep or get enough sleep at night, then this is an excellent place to start. Shutting off screens a few minutes before bed may be just what your mind needs to shift gears into relaxation mode.
While we all have 24 hours in a day, sometimes it can seem quite difficult to get our necessary 7, 8, or 9 hours. However, science clearly shows that we should place sleep on a pedestal of significant importance rather than supplementing our poor sleep schedule with stimulants.