The Go-Getter’s Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep
Exercise, eat right, drink enough water: we hear these things all the time in conversations about how to live a healthy lifestyle. But we often neglect the one thing our body and mind needs to function properly in all that we do: sleep.
From weight loss, mental sharpness, heart health, and even mood disorders, sleep is a critical component to manage our overall health.1 But in a society filled with stores that stay open 24/7, demanding college courses, and children or other family members that we must care for, how do we consistently get a good night’s sleep when the world seems set on keeping us awake and stimulated at all hours?
Here is the ultimate guide to getting a good night’s sleep, and why it’s so important.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The amount of sleep we need changes as we get older, and it also varies from person to person. The best way to find out how much sleep you need is to dedicate a period of time to let your biological clock take over. Turn off your alarm, listen to your body’s tired signals, and make a record of what time you naturally fall asleep and wake up.
This experiment is good in theory, but most adults don’t have the luxury of waking up when their body feels like it. This is why the National Institutes of Health2 suggests that adults get around 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you’re like most adults, however, 7-8 hours of sleep is probably not your reality, but getting less than that amount is probably costing you.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Your ability to perform mentally and physically during the day depends on the amount and quality of sleep you get. Unfortunately, the American Sleep Association3 has found in one survey that 37.9 percent of respondents reported dozing off unintentionally during the day at least once during the preceding month, and more seriously, that 4.7 percent reported nodding off behind the wheel at least once during the preceding month. Very sadly, drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 fatal and 40,000 non-fatal car accidents in the US each year.
How much does sleep actually affect your performance at school or work? The answer is, more than you think.
The US Department of Health and Human Services4 cites several research studies that have looked at the link between sleep and performance. One study asked volunteers to sleep for specific intervals of time—some for 6 hours, some for 8 hours—and found that the amount of sleep was directly related to improvement in performance, with those getting more sleep outperforming the sleep-deprived group. This is especially true before a mentally challenging task.
Another study asked two groups of volunteers to complete a memory task and then take a test on it after 8 hours. One group was allowed to sleep during that 8 hours, and the other was not. Those who had been allowed to sleep during that 8 hours were more likely to outperform those who had stayed awake.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
Few would argue about the benefits of adequate sleep, but many would argue its feasibility. There’s just not enough time in the day, right? Wrong. You make the time for what’s important to you, so it’s time to make sleep a priority. Here are some tips to help you make getting better sleep a habit and priority.5
Establish a bedtime routine for yourself. This could include reading before bed, taking a bath, or meditation.
Keep screens off at least an hour before bed to avoid the mental stimulation.
Budget your time. Don’t feel bad about leaving parties early or saying no to late-night events if it means it will affect your sleep. Adjust your bedtime if your must wake up early so that you still get adequate sleep.
Create an ideal sleep environment. Your room should be dark, cool, and comfortable. Use a fan, a mask, or other sleep aid to help you if your room cannot be modified appropriately.
Even on the weekend, wake up and go to bed at the same time. This will help your body fall asleep and stay asleep for the night, and make it easier to wake up early in the morning.
Exercise every day, even just for a short amount of time, to work your body so that it looks forward to resting at the end of the day.
As much as we love them, don’t take naps during the day. The small boost they give you during the day does not compensate for the sleep deprivation they can cause at night.
Consume your daily caffeine in the morning to give it 4-6 hours to clear your system.
Stop eating an hour or two before bed.