The difference between mediocre sleep and great sleep
Sleep is amazing but don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the research, there’s a huge difference between missing just an hour of sleep and sleeping like a pro for 7-9 hours. The biggest thing we see is how getting the right amount of sleep actually reduces your risk of dying from any cause. I don’t know about you but there aren’t many things out there that have this effect, so I pay attention when I hear that. Beyond that improving your sleep benefits lots of different diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental health, digestive complaints and more. This means that poor sleep is definitely one of the contributing factors of the health crisis today.
I’m all for preventing disease, but it isn’t always enough to get me to try something. What puts it over the top is whether I’m going to be real and noticeable benefits, and good news there are plenty of benefits. There is a mountain of research around sleep improving overall function of the body and especially mental function. In fact there’s a well supported theory that mental health disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety, etc) are not “diseases” but symptoms of sleep disorders. Mounds of research shows that you’re proven to be smarter with a full nights sleep than if you are an hour or two short or didn’t have restorative deep sleep. There are brain benefits in attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and lots more. Whether you’re playing sports or just trying to be on top of your game at work or school, sleep is clearly a major factor.
This begs the question of what is good sleep, and how much do we actually need. First off let’s start with this concept – everyone is an individual and each individual has slightly different needs. Needs vary in length of sleep, best time to go to sleep (slightly), and behaviors that impact sleep (good or bad). Let start with sleep length, if you are an adult you are going to function best in the range of 7.5 hours to 9 hours of sleep per night. Outside of getting into an intense sleep study to figure out your best length, it’s pretty easy to play around with your alarm clock and figure out what feels best for you.
Next we need to focus on consistency; this means what time you go to bed and wake up AND that you do it a similar way most nights. If I miss out on a couple hours of sleep tonight it creates a sleep debt that usually lasts about 3 days. That means I have to either make up that sleep or I have to get good sleep for the next 3 days to reset my ideal mental state. This alone makes it not worth it staying out late on a weekend when I have a big meeting on Monday. Yet another reason many of us hate Mondays?
So how do we get optimal sleep in length and quality? We realize that sleeping a restless 9 hours isn’t nearly as good as sleeping a deep and restorative 6 or 7 hours so we have to make some changes in our life. Good news most are easy, check out below.
7 ways to Hack Your Sleep
Blot out the light!
There’s a lot of research that shows that light, especially blue light, suppresses melatonin-the sleep hormone. This means we need to dim the lights about an hour before bed, avoid using bright screened mobile devices and computers, and eliminate all light in the bedroom so it’s close to pitch black.
Silence and mask sounds
If you’ve ever been kept up by a noisy neighbor, dog or party you know sounds can disturb your sleep. The worst part is you might not realize that the neighbors dog is barking around 3 am every night and that’s why you are waking up tired. The best solution I’ve found for this is any white noise machine or app, this masks any sounds and decreases the likelihood that you’ll be startled even subconsciously from deep sleep.
This is common sense, but I have to say it. If your mattress is uncomfortable, your sleep is suffering. You want to wake up refreshed and without any aches or pains, and you probably know if your mattress is too old or doesn’t work for you. Find a knowledgeable mattress guy and have him help you select the right one for you.
When I was a kid I used to stay up late playing video games or watching action movies, and then I would try to go straight to bed after. Bad idea, I was exhausted but completely wired on the excitement I had just come from. Now I make it a point to never watch action movies or play video games after 7pm. I even take it to the next level, about an hour before bed I start to unwind by journaling or writing out 10 good things that happened that day and then read light fiction for 30-40 minutes. I also brush my teeth and wash my face before this so I’m not stimulating myself before laying down. That way when I climb into bed I’m relaxed and usually drift off within 15 minutes. Before I started this routine I would usually lay in bed at least 30 minutes before falling asleep.
I lived in Phoenix for awhile, and one of my apartments had really bad Air Conditioning. I could never get to sleep because it was so hot in the summer. Which brings up the point that even research shows us that most people sleep better at a temperature of 68 degrees, so keep it cool in your bedroom.
We are creatures of habit, and our body knows what time we usually eat lunch and go to sleep. If you’re going to sleep at 8 one night, 9 the next and 11 the next then back to 8 your body has no idea what’s going on. Be consistent with what time you lay down and what time you wake up in the morning, this lets our body get into the rhythm which only helps you in the long run.
Eat dinner for better sleep
Sometimes I have a special dinner with family and friends, and the food is really good and there’s plenty of it so I end up eating more than I normally do. What tends to happen is when I go to bed my stomach is still really full, and I’m uncomfortable. I could live with that except shortly after I lay down I start to notice I’m having heartburn. Go figure, I overfilled my stomach then took away the assistance of gravity to keep everything in there. Big surprise that on nights like that I don’t sleep well. Keep your dinner on the light end and you’ll sleep easy.
There are plenty of ways to make an impact, but I challenge you to take just one of these tips and put them in action consistently for a few days. You can probably figure out which ones are most likely to help you, so what’s stopping you. Get smarter, be better and sleep well!
Sleep and mortality: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882397/
Sleep and brain function: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/pdf/NDT-3-553.pdf
Sleep and appetite: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0010062