It is no secret that sleep is one of the most essential habits for health, happiness, and productivity.
Sleep has been shown to do all of the following:
- Improve learning, creativity, and memory
- Boost alertness and mood
- Support a healthy body weight
- Reduce the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia
And while these benefits of sleep likely don’t surprise you, it could be eye-opening to learn that we are sleeping an hour less per night now than we did just a generation ago.
In fact, a recent survey showed that Americans average just 6.5 hours of sleep per weeknight, which is less than all but one of the other countries included in the study (only Japanese slept less). And according to the CDC, 83.6 million American adults sleep less than 7 hours per night.
If those sleep stats don’t seem like a problem, think again.
Dr. Mike Dow, New York Times best-selling author of The Brain-Fog Fix and Heal Your Drained Brain, asserts that we need to be getting about 8 hours of sleep per night. Anything less just won’t suffice.
If you’ve read this far, you probably want to establish a healthy relationship with sleep. But how do you do it?
A good first step is to prioritize sleep in your life instead of always staying in overdrive. You’ll also want to eat a diet centered around fruits and vegetables to help regulate cortisol levels (and minimize sugar and refined flours that negatively affect the quality of your sleep). Reduce or eliminate caffeine after lunch (choose green tea if you need a small boost), and limit alcohol to one serving per night (red wine is best if you need a little nightcap).
You should also aim to regulate your wake and sleep cycles by exposing yourself to as much light as possible during the day, and limit exposure to light in the evenings. Open your blinds and turn on lights immediately upon waking, go outside for a walk or a run in the morning to get some sunlight (and some exercise), and position your desk at work to face a window. And then start dimming the lights as the sun goes down.
All of that should help.
But what if you still just can’t fall asleep at night?
Here are some tips from Dr. Dow for a good night’s sleep:
Set a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (including weekends)
- Your target bedtime and wake time should be about 8.5 hours apart to allow for 8 hours of sleep plus about 30 minutes to actually fall asleep. Pick times that you can stick to, 7 days a week (for example, my bedtime is 10pm and wake time is 6:30pm).
- Even when you don’t sleep well, it is critical to always get out of bed at your target wake time. This will train your body for this new schedule.
- Limit naps unless absolutely necessary. If you do need to nap, keep it short to about 20–30 minutes shortly after lunch, when your sleep-wake cycle experiences a small dip.
Build in a one hour wind down period before your target bedtime
- This means you should start preparing for sleep an hour before the bedtime established in step one (I start prepping for bed at 9pm, before my 10pm target bedtime).
- During this one hour period, you want to turn your thermostat down a few degrees (66–68 degrees is good for sleep), turn off all electronics (including TV, phone, and computer), and get into relaxation mode.
- Drink a cup of soothing tea, light a candle, read a book, meditate, take a hot shower or warm bath, or incorporate any other calming ritual that suits you before bed. You can take melatonin before bed to improve sleep and wake more refreshed (ideally only 0.3–0.5mg, which is comparable to what the brain produces, but up to 20mg is fine).
- I also like to keep a notepad next to my bed to get my thoughts out of my head. An effective ritual is to write down the 3 things you are most grateful for, and the 3 things you need to accomplish the next day (but no more than 3).
Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and set for sleep
- Your bed should really only be used for two things: sleep and sex. The only exception to this is reading a real book under dim lighting.
- If natural light in your bedroom is an issue, invest in blackout shades or a good eye mask. If outside noise is a disturbance, try earplugs or a sound machine.
Expect that it will take about 30 minutes to fall asleep
- It is rare to fall asleep in less than 10 minutes, so don’t set unrealistic expectations. The more you ‘try’ to fall asleep, the harder it will be to do so. Instead, aim to turn your brain off and shift from a ‘doing’ mind to a ‘being’ mind.
- If it seems like you’ve been lying in bed for well over 30 minutes (your brain often overestimates this amount), simply get out of bed and do a light activity under low light in a nearby room. Read or do some cleaning until you feel tired again. Then head back to bed.
- Whatever you do, don’t watch the clock. Checking the time will only stress you out and lead to more insomnia. If you’re worried about waking up on time, get a loud alarm clock (or multiple loud alarm clocks) so you can rest easy without anxiously checking the time.
The bottom line is that adequate sleep is critical, and yet it can be so elusive.
Hopefully these tips help you establish and maintain a healthy sleep routine.
If you have any other great sleep advice, let me know in the comments below!