Did you know that we spend roughly 26 years sleeping?
Or that we spend an average of 7 years TRYING to fall asleep?
Sleep is the activity we spend more time on than anything else while on this planet.
From babies to adults, sleep is the one thing everyone on this planet has in common, it can make us stronger, or break us if we don’t get enough of it.
It’s not surprising that it’s so important to us, but it is surprising just how bad some of us are at it.
I’ve written a long list of tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep, the duration of it, or how to fall asleep faster.
Why do we need to sleep?
In short, no-one knows for sure.
Scientists have done many studies by keeping people or animals deliberately awake for as long as possible, but even so, they have failed to answer this question conclusively.
Theories are that it helps our bodies repair cells, gives the brain a chance to recover and build new connections, and in general allows our body and our organs to rest and rejuvenate.
But, as I’m sure you already know, whatever the scientific reason, sleep makes us feel better.
And when we don’t get enough sleep, we feel tired, short-tempered, struggle to do cognitive tasks like make good decisions, do maths, or drive.
How much sleep do we need?
I have read a lot of articles that say 8h, some say 7-9h for adults.
The truth is, some of my friends only need 6h of sleep, while I function best on a minimum of 8h. In fact, 10h is better.
I also know that if I don’t eat enough during the day, for whatever reason, or perhaps I have gone for a long run that burned a lot of calories, I can go to bed at 7pm and fall asleep immediately, then sleep through until the next morning, 12h later.
This tells me that some days I just need more sleep than other days. I suspect from a scientific point of view my body might be conserving energy, or simply have run out of easy carbs to burn for energy, and this lack of energy makes me lethargic and sleepy.
If you are reading this article, then you are old enough to feel for yourself when you have had enough sleep, and when you need more.
Always listen to your body, it will tell you when you need more sleep.
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What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?
Not getting enough sleep is VERY VERY BAD for your health.
Sleep deprivation can cause, or has been linked to:
- Lack of focus, inability to pay attention, do simple maths, learn, or any task that requires cognitive skills.
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Increased risk of diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance.
- Just one night of sleep deprivation can make you 60% more emotionally reactive (negatively so), impacting stress, anxiety, anger and suicidality.
- Impaired decision making, ie you make bad decisions for all the wrong reasons.
- Studies from around the world show a consistent increased risk of obesity amongst children and adults.
Tips for getting more sleep
1) Keep your room cool and dark.
A temperature that is not too cold or too hot is ideal, somewhere between 64.4F and 75.2F (18C and 24C).
Too much light interrupts your circadian rhythm (any process or organ in your body that cycles or repeats every 24h).
There is anecdotal evidence that sleeping in a cooler room can be anti-aging, prevents metabolic disease, decreases the risk of disease in general, reduces or prevents insomnia, and reduces stress levels.
Tips for making your room cooler and darker:
- Open a window.
- Get a fan or air conditioner, preferably a silent one.
- Invest in a cooling gel bed topper or cooling sheets.
- Try sleeping naked or with minimal clothing.
- Stick your feet or legs out.
- Remove any light sources that are incandescent, as they produce heat.
- Use blackout curtains or blinds during the day to keep the room cool.
Pro Tip: My mother likes to keep the windows open at night to let the cool air in, then close them first thing in the morning as the sun is rising, trapping the cool air inside the house. Then she closes all the blinds and curtains to prevent the room heating up again.
2) Make the room quiet and as noise free as possible.
Ditch the TV and the radio.
Falling asleep with the TV on sounds like a good idea, but at some point there will be a sound that puts your brain into alert mode, waking you up immediately.
It’s basic survival for your brain.
If you really can’t avoid falling asleep with the TV on, or you enjoy that part too much to give it up, then at least set the TV to switch off automatically after a certain time. Most new TV’s now have that auto-off feature.
And if you like falling asleep to music or while listening to an audible book, both can be set to switch off automatically. Here are some tips on how to do that.
3) Wear comfortable clothes.
4) Set a routine and go to bed at the same time every night.
5) Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
This includes sodas like coke or pepsi.
Don’t worry about the caffeine in tea, unless you are ingesting the tea leaves, tea does NOT have more caffeine than coffee.
6) Also avoid sugary snacks and drinks.
There’s a reason schools ban it for kids, it gives you (kids and adults alike) enormous amounts of energy you cannot burn up before going to bed.
7) Avoid too much alcohol.
While alcohol is a relaxant and an antidepressant, too much of it will cause more problems than it cures.
It might make you fall asleep quickly, but you’ll be wide awake at 2am, obsessing over everything you might have said last night.
And in any case, alcohol is effectively a poison to your system, so no matter how much you sleep, you’ll wake up tired and feeling ill.
8) Avoid eating large meals late at night.
9) Avoid drinking water or other fluids that might fill your bladder to an uncomfortable level.
10) Avoid naps during the day. Otherwise you will not be tired enough to fall asleep again.
11) Turn off the gadgets.
Social media has a habit of making us tense. Plus we often feel enticed, or obligated to respond or participate.
And let’s face it, scrolling through Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram is addictive, there’s always MORE to read and discover.
Not to mention that the light from the screen will most likely keep you awake.
12) Avoid scary or stressful movies or TV shows. Or books.
When I first started reading Jack Reacher books, I struggled to fall asleep. It took me a while to make the connection with the fact that the fast-paced action in the books was keeping me tense and anxious.
Great to read, but bad for relaxing enough to fall asleep.
13) Manage your pain before bedtime.
If you are feeling pain, you will remain tense and be unable to relax enough to fall asleep.
For muscle stiffness, learn to stretch your whole body. I find this routine by Shona Vertue very helpful.
For chronic pain, ensure you take your medication well in advance of your bedtime.
14) Managing and relieving stress and anxiety .
To fall asleep you need to relax your body enough that your brain can let go. When you are anxious and tense, it’s hard to do that. But there are techniques out there that can help you relax.
Practice deliberate positive thinking during the day.
Try breathing exercises or meditation. Headspace has some helpful videos on youtube.
Avoid anything that will cause you more anxiety, like social media and family drama.
The benefits of regular and moderate exercise are vast and well proven.
It’s also great at relieving stress and anxiety. I guess being tired is a great way to have your body crave relaxation and sleep.
I know from personal experience, that exercise forces both my physical body and my brain to relax and let go.
16) Create a Bedroom Oasis
Find the right mattress for your body and your style of sleeping. Some like it soft, others like their mattress firm, whichever you prefer, if you are an adult, it’s time to pick a mattress that suits your needs.
Pick your bedding for maximum comfort. Smooth sheets and a fluffy pillow makes us feel cosy and relaxed.
If you like plants, then add some plants to your bedroom to create a space you feel comfortable and safe in.
Lighting is also an important factor. Harsh lights will keep you awake, soft bed lamps lowers the energy in the room, allowing you to relax.
Lots of people find aromatherapy very beneficial in helping them relax.
You can use candles, aromas and scents to create your own spa experience.
Think back to when you last had a hot bath full of frothy bubbles, some candles and some nice smelling bath foam, how did that make you feel?
18) Other things you can also try:
Spa music: In the Radio section of the Music app on your iPhone, you’ll find “Spa” music under Electronic.
Ocean sounds: In the Music app on your iPhone, search for “Calm Sea Sounds for Sleep” under albums.
Tide (free app on iPhone and Android): Tide has options for Relax, Sleep and even Breathe (where it teaches you how to breathe in a way that relaxes you – like the 4-7-8 method). There are also options for Daily Meditations.
Sleep is important for your physical and mental health.
And having a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do to become healthier.
Having said that, if you are an insomniac, and you’ve tried all of the above already, then it’s time to see a doctor. Never mess around with your health.
But most importantly, don’t blindly follow the advice of others, always listen to your own body.
Your body will tell you what it needs.