You can’t talk about living a healthy, fulfilling, and productive life without talking about sleep. Early on in my own life, I saw sleep, as many people did, optional. All-nighters were a badge of honor, and daily sleeplessness was a given.
Whether it’s studying for finals or sacrificing sleep for a fun night out, we don’t make sleep as much of a priority as other areas of our lives, like nutrition and fitness. According to Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep Routinely, sleeping less than six or seven hours a night, demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. He goes on saying it can also disrupt blood sugar levels, block your arteries, and cause major psychiatric conditions, including anxiety and depression.
On top of all of that, you will also, I’m sure, as you have the experience, lose focus and concentration as well as productivity during the day. So if you truly want to make the most out of your days as well as your life, you need to take sleep seriously.
Don’t consume caffeine 10 hours before bed
Over two billion cups of coffee are consumed a day in what Matthew Walker calls the most widely used and abused psychoactive stimulant in the world. Caffeine works by blocking your adenosine receptors which promote sleepiness. So it doesn’t really give you a boost of energy as much as it masks the fact that you’re tired, similar to how pain relievers simply cover up pain.
While this might be an effective approach for studying for finals or cramming in your next big project, it could be harming your sleep without you even knowing about it.
According to a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that consumption of a caffeine dose equivalent to that of a double espresso three hours before habitual bedtime induced a 40-minute phase delayed of circadian melatonin rhythm In humans.
Caffeine has a half-life of around five hours. So by the time you finish your last cup of coffee, it’s going to take you five hours from that point to get rid of half of the caffeine from your body. Another five hours after that and the remaining caffeine in your body will behave once again. And so if you want to get better sleep, cut yourself off from caffeine at least 10 hours before bed.
Don’t forget that this includes caffeinated tea, dark chocolate, and some pain relievers. Caffeine affects everybody a little bit differently. When I quit caffeine for 30 days last year, a painful experience both physically and spiritually, I personally didn’t notice a huge shift in my sleep patterns and how I got to sleep. I wasn’t tracking my sleep meticulously during this 30-day experiment, and so I can’t really be certain whether quitting caffeine had a positive or negative effect. I can just say that it felt the same.
If you find that you’re sluggish and tired later in the afternoon without a second cup of coffee, it’s probably an indicator that you’re not getting enough sleep to begin with by intentionally cutting yourself off at least ten hours before you go to bed, you’re much more likely to get to sleep quicker and also have less sleep disruptions during the night.
Improving your overall sleep health.
Time in bed and sleep time is not the same
Get eight hours of sleep, not eight hours in bed. National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of eight hours for adults. Some might be able to function on a little less, some might need more. And it requires some experimentation to truly understand how much sleep you need. Many people don’t get enough sleep.
Regardless of what the science tells us, 40 percent of Americans still say that they get less than seven hours of sleep every night, and getting a full eight hours requires much more than being in bed for eight hours each night.
This might be one of the biggest misconceptions and one of the biggest mistakes that I made with my own sleep habits. I just naturally assumed that if I was in bed for eight hours, I’d be getting around eight hours of sleep. But I didn’t factor in a few things.
It usually takes me about thirty minutes to get to sleep and I also toss and turn throughout the night. And so once I started to track my sleep, I started to realize that I was actually underestimating the amount of time that I needed to be in bed.
Through tracking my sleep, I realized that I was consistently getting less than eight hours of sleep and occasionally I’d have nights of less than six hours.
So in order to make sure that I gave myself the best chance of getting eight hours of sleep every night, I knew that I’d have to give myself more time in bed. So I planned ahead, added a little bit of buffer time into my sleep schedule. And if I really wanted to get eight hours of sleep, then I’d often have to give myself nine hours in bed.
In order to get a full night’s sleep, you should also plan for potential sleep disruptions. The quality of your sleep is directly related to your ability to stay asleep.
If you have constant interruptions, your sleep will suffer.
Waking up to go to the bathroom, sweating because your room is too hot, streetlights creeping in through your window don’t simply default to your environment. Take control of your bedroom and organize it in a way that gives you the best shot at getting eight hours of sleep. Play white noise or rain sounds to drown out traffic, get blinds to block the sunlight from coming into early.
Drinks before bedtime
You can control the amount of beverages that you drink before you go to bed. Research indicates that alcohol is particularly damaging to your sleep, but I’m also talking about any beverages. You want to make sure that you don’t have to wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
The temperature in the bedroom
You can control the temperature of your room. This can be challenging when sharing a bed with your partner, but having enough blankets and getting a fan placed on your side of the bed can help to keep both people comfortable during the night.
Don’t look at screens one hour before bed
As research has shown that looking at screens before bed can have a negative impact on our sleep schedules. According to the National Sleep Foundation, using screens before bed delays, your body’s internal clock suppresses the release of sleep induced hormone melatonin. It makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
The blue glow of our screens is dial to match the sunlight. Most computers now have the ability to switch to a dark mood or night mode in this act to change the color temperature of your screen as the sun sets, making screens a warmer color.
Some research has shown that this might actually make the problem even worse. A recent study found that brightness has more of an effect than color temperature. So a glowing screen, blue or not, will still confuse the brain into thinking that it’s daytime.
The better solution is to avoid all screens completely one hour before bed, two hours if you can.
One way that I found to be able to do this effectively is to replace that habit with something else. This happens with almost every bad habit that you can think of. By replacing it, you’re preoccupying your mind. You’re keeping yourself busy and comfortable doing something else. If you simply cut out screens and expect yourself to sit there and meditate for an hour, you’re going to break and you are going to fail. Replace it with something positive and you’ll give yourself an even better shot of changing the habit.
The earlier that you cut off screens and begin to dim the lights in your home, the more likely you are to get to sleep much quicker. Two hours is ideal. One hour works.
I know firsthand just how easy it is to push off sleep as a priority in life, it’s so much easier to focus on these other areas of self development and productivity that are a little bit more sexy, especially for those of us who are really ambitious and really want to get a lot done.
But I know first hand how pushing off sleep really does negatively impact your well-being as well as your mental health. So, of course, there’s going to be these late nights. Of course, there’s going to be these times when you have to complete that project last second, when you’re pushing things off until the last minute. But I’ve found that for my health, for my mental health, for my physical health, for my overall well-being, to really be happy and to really enjoy the work that I’m doing, I need to make sure that I’m getting enough sleep every single day.