Isn't part of achieving balance in life also getting enough sleep? I don't know anyone who hasn't struggled with this at some point in their life. For many it is a daily struggle. We all need sleep and chances are you aren’t getting enough.
I watched an interesting Ted Talk by sleep scientist Matt Walker recently titled Sleep is Your Super Power. Let's just say, I am never going to look at anyone that brags that they only need 4-6 hours of sleep the same way. Watch the beginning of that Ted Talk and you will understand why.
His point is that ”sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity.” The lack of sleep not only affects our cognitive ability but also our physiological systems. I have definitely experienced that. I have even been known to send people home early from work because their concentration and cognitive ability was diminished to a point they were no longer productive due to a lack of sleep.
Have you ever been so stressed out you almost had a nervous breakdown? Just me? I recall being especially stressed my sophomore year of college. It was mid-term and I had multiple papers and exams hitting at the same time. I was staying up all night for days trying to study and get it all done. I was so stressed I was on the verge of tears. One of my roommates who was a wise senior told me to go take a nap. I argued that I didn't have time of course, but eventually gave in. The couple of hours I took for a nap saved my sanity. Amazingly, it gave me the energy to finish my papers and study for my exams. After that, I got much better at managing the sleep/study balance and even went on to impart my new-found knowledge of the power of napping to underclassmen when they were stressed. To this day, whenever I am feeling particularly stressed or I find myself easily irritated I take inventory of the amount of sleep I have been getting. There is usually a direct correlation.
So, how do we get more and better sleep? Well, first we have to make time for it. We live in a highly scheduled world, so if blocking it out on your calendar is what it takes, then do it.
In the Ted Talk , 6 Tips for Better Sleep, Matt Walker gives these six tips to getting better sleep.
"Regularity. Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, no matter whether it's the weekday or the weekend." As simple as this sounds, it is so hard to do consistently. We stay up later on the weekends because we can easily sleep in. The key is to set a bedtime alarm as well as a wake up alarm if you have trouble with this one. The new IOS 14 version of the Health App now has a sleep reminder and alarm built in. It is very simple to set up. Now my phone reminds me to go to bed.
"Keep it cool... so aim for a bedroom temperature of around about 65 degrees. That sounds good to me. I like a cool room so that I can be cozy under the covers, with a foot hanging out of course. I'm also less likely to wake up in the middle of the night sweating if the room is cool.
"Darkness. We are a dark-deprived society and, in fact, we need darkness specifically in the evening to trigger the release of a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate the healthy timing of our sleep." Dim the lights prior to bedtime. Step away from your electronic devices! You can use blackout curtains or a sleep mask or both. I also take a melatonin supplement about thirty minutes before my bedtime.
"Don't stay in bed awake for long periods of time." We have all had those nights that our brain doesn’t want to shut off and we lay there sleepless. You look at the clock and reason that if you just fell asleep now you would still get X number of hours of sleep. If it has been more than 25 minutes it is recommended that you go ahead and get up. Do something else for a while until you get sleepy. That way you associate being in bed with sleeping.
"Caffeine and Alcohol. A good rule of thumb here is to try to stay away from caffeine in the afternoon and in the evening and certainly try not to go to bed too tipsy." Because of their stimulating properties they aren’t very conducive to getting good sleep. Taper off caffeine in the afternoon and don't over do it on alcohol.
"Have a wind-down routine. I think many of us in the modern world, we expect to be able to dive into bed at night, switch off the light, and we think that sleep is also just like a light switch, that we should immediately be able to fall asleep." Unfortunately, for most of us falling asleep isn’t as simple as getting into bed and turning off the lights and immediately falling asleep. In fact, we might find people that fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow a bit irritating, but that is just jealousy. Having a bedtime ritual can help get you into sleep mode. Dimming the lights, taking out contacts, washing your face and putting on moisturizer and lotions can all be part of your ritual. I usually start mine about 30 minutes before I plan to head to bed. Do something that puts you in relaxation mode.
Matt Walker doesn't mention it in these Ted Talks, but I think there should be a seventh tip.
Set up a comfortable bed. That means mattress, pillows, sheets and covers. I am often more cold at night than my spouse, so I add a twin blanket under the comforter on my side. Mattresses aren't cheap, but considering how much time you spend in bed and how it affects your health, having a good one is worth every penny. If you can't afford to replace it right now, look into well made mattress pads with extra fill and invest in your pillow. I can't even begin to tell you the value of a good pillow.
So, invest in yourself. Give yourself permission to sleep. Create bedtime rituals that help you relax.
A ritual I had as a child as I crawled into bed was telling my parents and roommates, also known as sisters, "Good night. I love you. See you in the morning."
What are your bedtime rituals? Which of these tips is the most challenging for you to adopt?