Sleep. Get some.
We find ourselves in a unique time to be able to address one of the most basic, yet important aspects of daily life: Sleep. It is something we all do everyday but likely overlook it for how important it is. Not getting enough sleep contributes to a wide range of problems both immediate and long term. Quality sleep then greatly impacts your life and should be a top priority.
What is quality sleep?
Generally, 7-9 hours of sleep will keep you in good health. As to what time you go to bed, situational factors and your chronotype (your biological preference as to when you prefer to fall asleep, which changes throughout life) all play a part.
Quality sleep has to do with hitting all stages of sleep. There are five stages of sleep as you can see to the left. Different things happen at different stages. Importantly, stages 3 and 4 are where muscle and tissue repair happen. In the context of working out, this is very important. You cannot recover well and your progress will be impeded if you are unable to sleep well. Stage 5, or REM sleep, is where consolidation of memories for long-term learning, as well as the processing and storage of memories associated with events that elicit strong emotions like fear and anxiety. It is then important for proper memory function, learning, and emotional control to sleep well.
How do you know if you are reaching all cycles of sleep?
If you are a data person, there is wearable technology to help you track your sleep stages. From sleep sensing pajamas, to mattress sensors, to watches, to rings, you definitely have options. However, the technology, usability, and software make the accuracy of these products questionable – so do you research if tech is your jam. A non-tech measure of sleep quality is how you feel. Do you wake up feeling refreshed? Are you able to wake up on your own without an alarm? Do you remain alert and focused throughout the day?
Sleep deprivation downfalls
I have listed some benefits of sleep, but sometimes seeing the downside, in this case sleep deprivation, is more potent. Being sleep deprived can be very detrimental to your health. One night of shortened sleep leads to impaired cognitive function, lapses in memory and impaired motor function. This will likely cause some degree of poor performance at work and elsewhere. As days go by, continual sleep deprivation exacerbates these problems, leading to irritability, inability to cope with stress, and further impaired motor function leading to such things as poor driving. Also, the more sleep deprived, the worse your ability to make decisions. So when it comes to what food choices you make, you are more likely to reach for foods high in sugar and fat, like cake and donuts (or is that just me?). This likely doesn’t fit so well into your health and wellness goals.
Long term effects of being short on sleep contribute to a wide range of disorders, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Compromised immune function
- Cardiovascular disease
These are not little things. These are huge, important, real diseases that are significantly impacted by sleep dysfunction. You will make better decisions, have a better quality of day, be more productive, and help stave off serious chronic diseases if you prioritize your sleep.
Prioritizing sleep can be done by creating a routine around relaxation, not distraction, near bedtime.
Here are some tips for creating a helpful routine around sleep:
- Going to bed around the same time each night (whether it’s 9:30pm or 1am, as long as you are getting an adequate amount and good quality sleep)
- Not falling asleep with the tv on (you know who you are)
- Leaving your phone in a different room
- Try to create a space where, for at least 30 minutes before bed, you are free of screen time and can allow your eyes and brain to relax a little
- Read a book
- Take a hot bath
- Practice mindfulness (mindfulness post). Some issues revolving around sleep have to do with being able to shut your mind off. Practicing mindfulness daily, like before bed to help relax your mind and focus your thoughts around sleep, can help with shutting your brain off
- Keep the bedroom as dark as possible: To wake up quickly you can stimulate your brain by finding some bright sunshine. Conversely, keeping your room as dark as possible lets your brain know it’s time to shut down
- Cut caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime (9 or more if possible)
- Cut alcohol within a couple hours of bedtime. While alcohol initially makes you drowsy, it also disrupts proper sleep patterns
- Cut food within a couple hours of bedtime
- If you have trouble falling asleep and nap regularly, try cutting the nap
This is why now is such a unique time for a lot of people (but not everyone, I know). Our daily routines have been massively disrupted and you find yourself able to set your daily activities with more freedom. Take this opportunity to focus on creating healthy routines. I have not addressed those of you who work overnights or rotating shift work. That is a challenging situation. Still, having a routine is better than not, and attempting quality sleep is worth the effort to help support the other things you are doing to lead a healthy lifestyle. For more information, see: https://www.healthline.com/health/shift-work-sleep-disorder
Also if you suspect you have sleep apnea (snoring loudly, periods of stopped breathing, fatigue, etc.) it is definitely worth looking into to see if you need some help getting a restful night of sleep.
Sleep is extremely important. Building healthy habits around sleep will provide you with better cognitive and physiological functions to be more productive, more engaged, more focused on what matters to you, and healthier throughout your life.