Sporty and I are minimalist in a lot of areas, but when it comes to sleep our ‘less is more’ philosophy goes right out the window.
We’re usually in bed before the toddler nextdoor.
Missing out on a good night’s shut eye is enough to make anyone grumpy. We all want to wake up feeling well rested and ready for the day, but that doesn’t always happen.
There are a number of common sleep problems that could keep you up at night. Some, like staying up too late binge-watching Netflix, are easy to remedy. While others, like insomnia or restless leg syndrome, are less so.
Whatever the reason for your sleepless night, one thing’s for sure. You’ll pay the price come morning.
On the upside, engaging in these seven habits is sure to bring on those much needed zzzzs.
Why Is Sleep so Important?
Understanding what happens when you sleep will help you understand why it’s so important to get enough of it. Prior to the 1950s sleep was seen as a passive activity, with brain and body just lying there taking a load off.
We now know that’s not the case. According to Johns Hopkins sleep expert and neurologist Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D., “…sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life—which are closely linked to quality of life.”
Sleep helps your body heal and restores your energy levels. It’s also vital for neuroplasticity and brain function and may even facilitate the removal of waste products from brain cells. Something researchers believe doesn’t happen as efficiently when we’re awake.
The effects of sleep deprivation are far reaching. Getting by on less or no sleep means you’re more likely to get sick, gain weight, have a heart attack or crash your car. You also increase your risk of dementia, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.
Ready to go back to bed yet?
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Okay, so I’ve convinced you that sleep is important and explained what happens when you don’t get enough. But how many hours a night is optimal and can you sleep too much?
The short answer is 7-9 and yes.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours sleep per night for the average adult aged 18-65. This will obviously vary slightly depending on how hard you are working out or if you’re recovering from illness, etc.
But what about children? Helpfully, the guys at Sleep Advisor have outlined the recommended sleep times for every age, from newborns right the way through to teenagers, young adults and adults.
It’s definitely worth checking out if you have kids. You’ll be able to back up your complaints with hard facts the next time you accuse your teenager of spending too much time snoozing.
As for oversleeping, research has shown that sleeping too much poses a number of health risks. Interestingly, they’re largely the same as when you don’t get enough sleep.
The Habits of Highly Effective Sleepers
Now that you know how much sleep you need, let’s look at what you can do to improve your sleep quality and increase your chances of waking up refreshed and well rested. Because let’s face it, nobody likes a Mr Grumpy Pants in the morning.
Least of all, Mr Grumpy Pants.
1. Digital Sunset
As appealing as it is to plonk yourself on the couch in the evening, the worst thing you can do before bed is indulge in a little digitally delivered R&R.
The blue light emitted from electronic devices like smartphones, laptops and TVs throws your body clock out of whack and suppresses the secretion of melatonin, which controls the body’s sleep-wake cycles.
Aiming for a digital sunset that’s at least two hours before bedtime will give your body time to prepare for sleep and allow your brain to wind down. As an added bonus, it’ll also ensure the next day is a productive one.
2. Regular Sleep Schedule
Going to bed at the same time isn’t just good for kids, adults can also benefit from a regular sleep schedule. When you’re consistent about the time you go to bed and wake up, your circadian rhythm operates at its peak.
This means your body knows exactly which hormones to release when, in order for you to fall asleep quickly and wake up easily. Eventually, you should reach a point where you’ll be able to wake up automatically without an alarm clock.
If you find you still need helping waking up, opt for a sunrise alarm clock to coax you from your slumber. Because it’s a much gentler approach you’ll be less likely to hit the snooze button.
3. Create a Sleep Haven
To sleep well you need to create a sleep haven, a place that inspires rest and relaxation. For starters, you definitely cannot have a TV in the bedroom. Hopefully you’re onboard with a digital sunset, but either way, your bedroom should be an electronics free zone.
If you live in a bright neighborhood, try installing room darkening blinds to shut out light from street lights, etc. Dial down the light in your bedroom with a lower wattage globe or a dimmer switch.
You won’t sleep well if you’re too hot or too cold, either. Aim for a room temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Last, but by no means least, make sure your bed is still up to the task. If it’s showing signs of wear and tear it’s probably time to replace it.
4. Don’t Hit the Snooze Button
When the alarm goes off, get up. Hitting the snooze button is probably one of the worst things you can do. If you’re a serial snoozer, either put on your Superman undies and just get up or set the alarm for 15 minutes later and enjoy some more deep, restorative sleep.
5. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol and Nicotine
This should be a no brainer, but if you’re addicted it can sometimes be hard to see the wood for the trees. As an ex-smoker and late night java junkie, I know all too well how hard it can be to forgo your vices.
But the science is unequivocal on this, caffeine disrupts your sleep. With that in mind, the latest time you should drink coffee is somewhere around 2pm. If you’re very sensitive, closer to midday would be ideal.
Alcohol and nicotine are equally problematic when it comes to the quality of your sleep. Ideally you should quit smoking completely and enjoy alcohol Blue Zones style i.e. one or two glasses of red wine in the early evening.
6. Eat Light
Indulging in a big evening meal is bad news for your digestion and your sleep. You can’t expect to enjoy a solid night of zzzzzs when your poor body is hard at work digesting that huge burger and fries you ate an hour before hitting the sack.
You need to consume things that will help you sleep, such as bananas, chamomile tea, almonds, hummus and even oatmeal. These may or may not appeal to you, but ultimately the bottom line is to keep your evening meal light and eat relatively early.
7. Get Up Early
In a recent study, researchers surveyed just over 1,000 people to find out what made for a good night’s rest. Those that identified as satisfied sleepers rated 6am as the golden hour for getting up. While everyone agreed that sleeping past 7am reduces rest quality.
The benefits of waking up early cannot be overstated. I’m a morning person, so of course I’d say that. It’s true though. Among other things, waking up early increases productivity, improves your quality of sleep and helps you sustain a healthier diet.
Bonus Habit: Meditate
Having a regular meditation practice reduces stress, improves your overall health and wellbeing and helps you sleep better. It’s also been proven to increase short term mental performance and reduce the need for sleep. Meditating is a great way to declutter your mind, too.
I’m not suggesting you stay up late and meditate to offset your Netflix indiscretions, but I also get that sometimes life happens. Meditating regularly will stand you in good stead for those times you can’t get to bed at a reasonable hour.
Final Thoughts on Sleeping Well
If you’re not getting adequate sleep and rest, give this 7-day sleep experiment a try and see if you notice any improvements. I’m not sure about eating celery at bedtime, but I’ll try anything once (especially if it involves vegetables).
It’s also a good idea to figure out a Plan B if your bed mate is keeping your up and it’s worth changing your mindset about sleep, too.
Sleep is your body’s time to recharge. Don’t short change it by trying to get by on less than the recommended 7-9 hours a night.
Seriously, you expect a great deal of your body while you’re awake, the least you can do is reciprocate by giving it the rest it needs (and deserves).
Adopting these 7 habits of highly effective sleepers is your ticket to dreamland.
Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to go there?