Sleep. It’s something that most of us, regardless of who we are, could probably get more of.
But…you don’t need me to tell you that. Because it’s also something that most of us intuitively know we need more of. Much like drinking enough water or eating your vegetables, everyone knows that getting enough sleep is important…we just don’t do it.
So, if you’re like most people and you’ve been putting off fixing this aspect of your life, the following is a guide to help you develop the tools you need to finally get enough sleep.
The Consequences Of Long-Term Sleep Deprivation
Rather than lecture you on why sleep is important, we’re going to take a different approach, and talk about the consequences of not getting enough sleep. Because when it comes to actually making the decision to get serious, often avoiding the downsides can be more motivating than the reaping the benefits.
Here are two of the BIGGEST issues you’re likely to run into if you neglect your sleep for long enough:
- A Compromised Immune System: During periods of sleep deprivation, your body isn’t able to produce antibodies and infection-fighting cells as well as it should. This in turn makes you more susceptible to infectious diseases (including the cold and flu virus). It also makes it more difficult to recover when you do catch them.
- Weight Gain: This is a nasty one. There are a few different reasons why lack of sleep causes weight gain, but a big one is the fact that ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger, actually increases when you’ve underslept. Sleep deprivation also triggers cortisol, a stress hormone that can encourage fat storage.
Quality vs Quantity
So, with that said, it may seem pretty obvious what you need to do…sleep more. Right?
Well, yes and no. It is true that the vast majority of people in modern society could absolutely benefit from more sleep (you should generally aim for 7-9 hours, which most of us don’t get).
But it’s not just sleep quantity that matters- it’s sleep QUALITY. Because at the end of the day, spending 8 hours in bed doesn’t mean much when you’re still waking up feeling groggy.
There are a number of tactics and strategies you can use to get a deep, restful night’s sleep, but the big one we’ll be covering is creating a sleep schedule.
Understanding Circadian Rhythms
One of the key factors that influences sleep quality are what’s known as “circadian rhythms”, the natural 24-hour cycle your body goes through daily.
Circadian rhythms are a “built in” mechanism, but they’re also effected by your environment, including the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to, and they affect everything from sleep to digestion.
This is why you not only feel tired at night rather than in the morning, but also why most of us feel the need to go to bed earlier in the winter as the sun sets sooner.
Unfortunately, modern life and hectic schedules aren’t always compatible with our bodies needs. By the time we’re adults, a lot of us have gotten into the habit of going to bed and waking up at erratic hours (i.e. waking up at noon on a Sunday and then trying to get up at 7:00am for work the next day).
Can you spot the problem? Your body is designed to work in a rhythm. It likes being in a rhythm. And when you’re constantly switching what time you go to bed and wake up, you disrupt this natural cycle, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
How To Develop (And Stick To) A Sleep Schedule
The following are four strategies you can start using right away to get yourself on a sleep schedule, start locking onto your bodies circadian rhythms, and finally get a good night’s rest:
Go To Bed And Wake Up At The Same Time Everyday (INCLUDING Weekends):
Notice the “including weekends” part. A lot of people find that they’re good from Monday to Friday…but as soon as Saturday morning rolls around, they screw it all up by sleeping in until noon.
Resist the temptation. Get into the habit of going to bed and waking up on the weekends within an hour of your “regular time”. That means if you’re usually up at 7:30am for work, try getting up no later than 8:30am on Saturday and Sunday.
Try To Go To Bed And Wake Up Early:
Your circadian rhythms are both internally regulated and tied to the natural environment. What that means is that you should try to set your sleep and wake time “in tune” with sunrise and sunset as much as possible.
And no, that doesn’t mean you have to wake up at the crack of dawn and hit the sack at dusk. But it does mean you should be getting up and going to bed reasonably early (the exception to this would be if you work at night).
Create A Bedtime Routine:
For a lot of people, one of the hardest things about maintaining a sleep routine is actually getting to sleep in the first place. And with all of the stresses we put ourselves through during the day, it’s no wonder winding down is so difficult.
A good bedtime routine can really help. This means shutting down whatever it is you’re doing a few hours before bed. Try to find a few relaxing activities, and do them consistently before going to sleep. This could include taking a hot shower or bath, listening to relaxing music, doing some yoga or reading a book (fiction in particular has been shown to help relax and get you ready for sleep).
Stop Using Electronics An Hour Before Bed (At A Minimum):
While your bedtime routine is highly subjective and will vary from person to person, this one is pretty much non-negotiable. Ditch the computer and smart phone before you hit the sack.
The reason for this has to do with melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. Your computer screen emits a type of light known as “blue light” that suppresses melatonin, which makes it difficult to not only get to sleep, but to maintain the sleep cycle you worked so hard to create in the first place.