I’m sure you’ve gotten the advice to sleep more, but when you feel your day is already packed or you just don’t sleep well, “How?”, “When?”, and “Why?” are the first three questions that probably pop into your head. We live in a culture of, “Yeah, I got to bed late, but I still got up for my 4 AM run!”, “Meh, I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”, and the ever rotating break room discussion of how little sleep you got and how much coffee you drink. When it comes to lack of sleep or lack of quality sleep, we all seem to be giving into peer pressure because it seems like everybody’s doing it! And everyone probably has the ability to shift their schedule, improve their habits, and get better sleep. For some it may be harder (like new parents or shift workers), but there is usually something you can change to improve the quality of the sleep that you do get.
WHY do I need more sleep?
I mean, I know I’m groggy and probably drink a little too much coffee, but other than that, I seem to be functioning great! First, it’s good to remember that we humans have a tremendous capacity to adapt and adopt a new normal. If you are used to sub-optimal sleep, you may not feel poorly because it’s your normal. That being said, lack of sleep directly impacts our health in fairly significant ways and indirectly makes other aspects of health more challenging. Don’t believe me? Check out following list of topics and their connection to sleep. Pick your favorite:
- sleep and insulin resistance
- sleep and productivity
- sleep and weight loss
- sleep and fat
- sleep and immune system
- sleep and stress
- sleep and cortisol
- sleep and athletic performance
What are your goals? Chances are they will be easier and you will be more successful if you can improve your sleep.
WHEN am I supposed to get more sleep? And how much?
This is a tricky one because it’s going to take some back and forth. And, just like everything, it’s very situational and individual. As an adult, you need 7-9 hours of sleep. Which means you should be scheduling 7.5-9.5 hours of in bed time. Minimum. It takes about 15-30 minutes to fall asleep. There are some people who only need 6 hours (NOT get away with it, but get a full night’s sleep with 6 hours) and there are some who are much better with 9-10 hours. Figuring out how much sleep you need can be tricky. If you are lucky, you can find 3-5 days to get to bed at a decent hour, not set an alarm, and see what happens! If you aren’t blessed with 3-5 days of unscheduled time, just start by adding 15 minutes at a time to your bed time or alarm time, and see how you feel.
If you feel like your day is packed, it’s time to find your time leaks. How often do you find yourself picking up your phone and swiping through your three favorite apps? Do you always have your email open at work? Those minutes not only add stress, but use up time. What about in the evening? How much TV do you watch? How long do you spend browsing the internet after the kids go to bed?
- Change your environment – Turn off notifications, put the phone in a bottom drawer, in your jacket pocket, or leave it in the car. Break that weird app pacing habit and don’t pick up the phone in the first place.
- Change your habits – Only answer emails during certain times of the day. This takes a combination of communication and consistency. Let people know and don’t give in! If you are able, disconnect your work email from your phone.
- Cut the junk – Just like junk food, we have junk habits. Stick to the shows your truly enjoy or watch with other people. Do you really need to check that news site one more time?
By addressing the many small leaks first, you may not have to make bigger changes to your day. Or, they may expose that you really have taken on more than you can handle. Bigger time shifts will take some more experimentation and examination.
If you are a shift worker, it is worth your long-term health to try and maintain as consistent a schedule as possible, still trying to get seven to nine hours, but when is going to be determined by you. New parent? Prioritize a little more sleep the best you can.
HOW do I get more and better sleep?
Here are five things that you can improve the quality of your sleep:
- Pitch black room – Black out curtains and no lights from electronics.
- No screens before bed – The earlier the better, but aim for a minimum of 30 minutes. Do not disturb mode if you keep your phone next to the bed.
- Blue blockers – If you must work with screens late into the night, get yourself some blue blockers to wear when the sun goes down. Soup up your phone and computer with apps and settings that dim the blue levels of your screen with the sunset.
- Cool room – This will get easier now that summer is waning, but if you can cool your room at night, you will sleep much better. In the summer, I crank my AC to 62 degrees at night.
- Brain dump – All you need is a notebook, post it note, or scrap piece of paper and a pen. Write down the things you need to do tomorrow, who you need to call, errands you need to run, etc. Get it out of your brain and help yourself fall asleep faster.
- BONUS: Healthier lifestyle – Getting more sleep makes it easier to follow healthy habits and following healthy habits make it easier to get better sleep.
But what if I just CAN’T?!
Are you able to get in bed five minutes earlier? Can you grab a 10 minute nap instead of extra coffee? Can you take something off your plate tomorrow, so you can get to bed earlier the next day? Do what you can, when you can. There are always going to be days or weeks where good sleep just isn’t going to happen, so do what you can and get back to better sleep as soon as possible.
When you improve your sleep, you will see it in your skin, athletic performance, sugar cravings, recovery, immune system, mood and energy levels and your family and friends will thank you, too.