Our modern schedules stacked on top of our stresses reduce our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Let’s figure out what new science has to say about how to get quality sleep every night your head hits that pillow.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
The science isn’t completely in yet and we don’t know every reason why we need sleep and what happens to us when we don’t get enough sleep. But, one thing that we have found through years of research is that when you have a sleep debt, when you have gotten less sleep than you needed, that lack of sleep will,
- Mimic symptoms of aging for your skin and mind.
- Reduce your reaction times equal to those who are intoxicated by alcohol.
- Increase how severely you are effected by the symptoms of diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
- Decrease your tolerance to pain by 15%. This means that pain hurts that much more when you have less sleep.
With 1 in 3 adults reporting that they did not get enough sleep or did not get enough quality sleep it’s a big problem, but a problem that can be fixed.
1. Basic Sleep Hygiene
Let Yourself Start Falling Asleep
If you fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow, that means you are sleep deprived, not a good sleeper. A healthy average for falling asleep is between 10 to 20 minutes. But, if your face is on the pillow and you’re thinking to yourself that it’s taking too long, then you’re not going to fall asleep and get a restful sleep.
There needs to be the ability to quite down your mind enough to let yourself start the process of falling asleep. Wordless and soothing music in the background can help with this if silence is too much. Also, if you’re finding that silence is too much, you may want to figure out what those thoughts are and resolve those issues or get professional help for them. There are other simple first steps you can take to start having a healthier sleeping habit.
- Make your room cool and dark.
- Use your bed for sex and sleep only.
- Avoid coffee, soda and anything with caffeine after 3pm.
Turn off your television screens and phone screens at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. This is important because our melatonin-inhibiting blue light delays our ability to start the process of falling asleep by at least 10 minutes. Also, you will continually think about what you just watched which hinders your ability to start the falling asleep process.
Another fact about sleep and light comes from Ken Wright, director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder, “Light from the TV can go through your eyelids, so your brain still processes that you’re being exposed to light. We’d expect that this would lead to more fragmented sleep and more arousal throughout the night wherein your heart races or your brain waves speed up.” Your ability to reach the deep and restful sleep is diminished.
Don’t Lay in Bed if You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night
Laying in misery in the middle of the night because you woke up or you were woken up won’t help you get a restful night’s sleep. Get up and do something you enjoy that has nothing to do with technology. Go to a different room and read a book for instance. You do this to avoid making your bed and bedroom a place associated with being awake.
So, you’ve done all of this and you’re still not sleeping. Well, this is because research has found that good sleep hygiene solves about 25% of our sleep problems. If you are dealing with chronic conditions such as chronic pain, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea, there’s more to do. To more quickly learn how to sleep with chronic issues, it’s best to find a sleep specialist who can help you with your particular and unique sleep issues.
2. Reset Your Sleep Clock
What would you give for an extra 3 hours of restful sleep?
Our circadian rhythms are influenced by dark, light and the release of melatonin which is our sleep hormone. You can control the first two much easier as we spoke about in part 1 and drinking melatonin tea has been found to be inconclusive when it comes to putting you to sleep. It can be that the routine of drinking the tea takes you away from the stimulation of screens and helps with falling asleep more than the melatonin in the tea.
There are two other key parts to resetting your sleep clock. The darkness you promote in your bedroom is the first step because darkness helps you lower your body temperature and promotes your body releasing melatonin so you can start falling asleep. The second key part is having your room set up that natural sun light can come into your bedroom. The sun’s early morning light is found to help your body release melatonin earlier in the evening so you can fall asleep earlier.
Much research done by Dr. Wright has shown that those who go camping and have no technology with them start to naturally fall asleep from 1.4 to 2.6 hours earlier. This was because they were exposed to over 10 times more natural day light than usual so their sleep clocks were reset naturally. What would you give for an extra 3 hours of restful sleep?
If you have a schedule that doesn’t allow you to wake up with the sun, a light box is one way of working with your schedule.
3. How Long Should You Sleep?
For every adult it’s 7-8 hours. Research has shown that adults who get more than 8 hours and less than 7 hours of sleep will consistently score lower in reasoning, problem solving and verbal tests. And for those who slept for 4 hours or less consistently scored as if they were 10 years older than they actually were. Having too much sleep or having not enough sleep will cognitively and bodily impair you and in the end can have ramifications on how long you live.
4. Defeating Insomnia
100% of adults will be effected by some form of insomnia. You can’t fall asleep no matter what and you’re wishing you could and are wondering when you will get that restful sleep you are so use to or wish for. But, let’s start to understand what insomnia is.
- Insomnia is part of a Fear Response (Fight, Flight, Freeze) and from the evolutionary standpoint insomnia is there to make sure you were safe at night in case you were to be attacked by an animal at night. This isn’t so useful for us today.
- It has been shown in just 1 study so far from 2016 that if you are deprived of your deeper REM sleep (rapid eye movement) right after a traumatic situation, then the symptoms of PTSD will be reduced. There isn’t a good understanding of why this was found, and a theory is that if you don’t fall asleep and go into your deep REM sleep right after the trauma you don’t consolidate these memories, but that makes assumptions about sleep that we don’t know about yet. It’s just something to know that’s being looked into.
Insomnia usually starts because of an external problem in your life (such as problems at work) and/or internal problems (anxiety, depression, stress). This will lead you to laying in bed with a never-ending swirl of thoughts that keep you up. Here are some healthy habits to do when this happens.
- Write down your worries. This is a practice of getting what’s in your mind onto paper as to stop the infinite swirl. When they’re on paper it’s easier for our minds to see that our worries are finite and not infinite.
- Read something not so entertaining. I stated this before, but read a book that’s fine, but not going to stimulate you to stay awake for 4 more hours since you’re so intrigued by it. Everything you do is about quieting down your mind.
- Sleep in longer.
- Go to bed earlier.
If you do these after having a sleepless night you will damage your sleep clock. Sleep is variable and won’t happen at the same time every night, but you have to be committed to your pattern. Go to sleep at the same time you always would. This will let you naturally get out of the cycle of insomnia. This is unfortunately not a 1 night or even 5 day fix.
Major Mistake Made with Melatonin
There’s one major mistake made by those who will take melatonin supplements or drink tea with melatonin in it. They will drink the tea or take the supplement when they want to fall asleep, but this isn’t how melatonin works.
When your body starts to release melatonin, it’s telling itself that sleep is a few hours away. If you take melatonin or drink that tea at 9:30pm then you won’t be primed to sleep until after 11pm.
The Best Practice with Melatonin
Take melatonin when the sun sets. This will help you naturally fix your sleep cycle, but you have to also do everything else (such as turning off your televisions/phone screens). The general rule is to take the melatonin about 3 hours before you want to start falling asleep.
5. Sleep For Your Mental Health
We’ve talked a lot about your cognitive ability for reasoning being diminished by the lack of sleep, but this also effects your mood. Those who are sleep deprived,
- Are angrier than what’s normal for themselves
- Have less resources to deal with stresses
- Become frustrated more easily
- Have increased reactivity to negative emotions
- Reduce your ability to understand other people’s intent which can lead to more negative interactions with others
- Reduces your ability for empathy since your ability to see other perspectives is severely hindered
- You are naturally avoided by others who are picking up on your sleep-deprived ques
This all has to do with how sleep restores the balance of emotion-based neurotransmitters such as dopamine in our pre-frontal cortex which promotes emotional control the next day.
Read also: 4 Ways To Turn Your Mind Off And Go To Sleep
6. Take Naps
Naps should be between 15-20 minutes and happen between lunch and 3pm. Don’t go longer than this because you will fall into your REM sleep and will wake up feeling sluggish. Staying within the 20 minute max will help you restore your attention, reaction time, reduce inflammation in your body and increases positive mood. These benefits will last for about 3-5 hours. 20 minutes isn’t a bad trade for 3 – 5 hours or a better life.
7. What’s Your Source of your Sleeplessness?
Getting a good night sleep night after night is a lot of work. You have to have your bedroom set properly, you have to treat your bedroom properly, you have to take melatonin at the right time if you want to use it, you have to nap correctly during the day and, most importantly, you have to get your mind right.
The lack of sleep is a symptom of the source. This source can be a bodily disease such as chronic pain which you will have to get doctors to help you with on top of everything you’ve learned here. But, many times the source of your sleepless symptoms are due to the very thoughts that are keeping you up at night. The stresses of,
- Your Relationship
Just to name a few will keep you up. While working with my client’s I have found that a common complain is their lack of sleep, and when they start to get their life in order they start to sleep better and sleep more consistently.
So, you can have the perfect room, the perfect schedule, the perfect mattress, the perfect pillow, and the perfect melatonin tea, but if the chaos of your life is the source of your sleeplessness then your symptom of insomnia and sleeplessness won’t ever be overcome.
Most of the time we have to invest in ourselves instead of in pillows and teas to get what we need.