Welcome back for day 2 of breaking down the “5 Factors of Health“, today we’re going to talk about sleep and why you need more of it. Before we start it is important to note that getting more sleep is not about sleeping in later, in fact one of the most common traits of high achievers is that they are up early (“win the morning, win the day”). So we’re still going to get out of bed when the alarm goes off. What most of this blog is going to be about is how to create a better routine of down regulating or “winding down” at night to fall asleep quicker and sleep more efficiently.
The problems that come with getting too little sleep are numerous. We’ve all been there before, exhausted from an all night study session or a red eye flight, feeling a little more irritable or on edge than normal…desperately looking for 15 minutes of free time to take a nap. We know it’s bad while we’re going through an extreme case of sleep deprivation, but what’s a little harder to understand are the dangers from chronic sleep deprivation. Less than 7 hours of sleep per night has been linked to some pretty scary things like increased risk of heart attack, increased risk of developing diabetes, and even permanent brain damage. One six year long study showed that people who slept less than 6 hours per night were 4.5x more likely to have impaired fasting glucose levels (prediabetes) than people who got 6-8 hours of sleep. Another fun fact, heart attack risk in America goes up 24% the Monday following daylight savings time when we “spring forward” and lose an hour of precious sleep…conversely heart attack risk in America decreases by 21% when we “fall back” and gain an hour of sleep (heart.org).
So, we all know we need more sleep, but many of us don’t know how to make that happen. Below is a list of simple things you can do to get a better nights sleep…
1. Start a routine: One of the easiest ways you can get better sleep is by going to sleep at the same time every night (and waking up at the same time every morning). Getting on a schedule signals your body to start its own process of winding down regularly. Your body runs a sleep/wake cycle known as a “circadian rhythm”. This cycle used to run on the sun…when it went down we slept, when it came up we woke. Nowadays, thanks to the light bulb, our circadian rhythm is thrown all over the place. Long story short, the closer you can get to a regular routine the better your circadian rhythm functions, and you will fall asleep faster and get better sleep.
2. Turn off the tech: Seriously. I know it’s tough, I am by no means perfect at this, but it really messes up your sleep. Try turning off any tech about an hour before you go to bed and replace that time with something relaxing. If you absolutely can’t turn off the tech, invest in a pair of glasses with “blue light” blocking lenses. Blue light affects the brain the same way sunlight does. Think about what you’re telling your brain if it thinks its daylight out until 11pm every day and then all of the lights go out and its pitch black immediately…no wonder you lay there for 45 minutes unable to fall asleep.
3. Dim the lights: Try dimming the lights about two hours before bed…again, our rhythm is set to run on sunlight…try to mimic the setting of the sun by slowly turning off or dimming lights a few hours before bed.
4. Do something relaxing every night to wind down: Replace that last re-run of New Girl with 30 minutes of stretching, meditation, or breathing practice. Remember reading? that’s good too. Down regulating the heart and mind will go a long way in helping you fall asleep faster.
5. Sleep in darkness: Light keeps us awake. You have receptors all over your body and when they sense light it affects your sleep patterns. In one interesting study, a flashlight was placed under the covers and behind the knee of a person sleeping in an otherwise pitch black room. Even this small amount of light, that never hit the eyes, was enough to throw off the natural sleep pattern.
6. Sleep in a cool room: I know it’s nice to get all snuggly warm under the covers, and that’s fine. But the room temperature itself should be between 62-68 degrees. You’ll have to play with the exact temperature to find whats right for you.
7. Get some data: If you’re really trying to dial in your sleep you need some hard data. There are a bunch of apps that you can download to help track your sleep by listening to you breathe or tracking your movement while you sleep. These are better than nothing, but if you really want to get specific get a Whoop band.
Don’t go crazy and try to incorporate all of these things at once, but start to play with them over the next few weeks.
Here is a wonderful podcast – Chasing Excellence “10 principles for better sleep”
Sleep tight and stay strong my friends
Credit: Coach Jerad, The Lab