OK, before we get started, take a moment to think about your sleep quality... there's probably a reason that you were drawn to this post, and our guess would be that it is because you may struggling with sleep in some way. That's super common. In fact, a fourth of adults report issues with sleep at least half of the time every month. That's a lot! And initial reports since the Covid-19 era began is sleep routines have only gotten worse since then. It can also be helpful for people to narrow down what's going on specifically for them.
So, what's going on for you?
These are the most common categories, pinpointing your main issue is helpful in knowing which of the following strategies you want to try first. Reflect on which of the following you feel you struggle with that is having the most negative impact on your life right now:
Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty staying asleep
Waking up early
Still feeling tired and non-rested in the morning
Needing LOTS of caffeine to feel awake
Feeling drowsy in the afternoon
Sleeping too much
How sleep affects you at work
Now that you've finished that reflection, let's chat a bit about why sleep matters.
Sleep loss and untreated sleep disorders influence your patterns of behavior and can negatively affect interpersonal relationships (like how you interact with your colleagues and how you chat with your family and friends). Fatigue and feeling sleepy can reduce work productivity and increase the chance for mishaps such as errors and car or work-related accidents.
Research shows that adequate sleep is necessary to:
Fight off infection
Support the metabolism of sugar to prevent diabetes
Perform well in school
Work effectively and safely
Even more seriously, if left untreated, sleep disorders and chronic short sleep are associated with an increased risk of:
High blood pressure
That's right, we're not exaggerating when we say that not getting quality, sufficient quantity sleep can lead to DEATH! Being well-rested also is important for you to really flourish at work and do your job well. Sounds pretty important, so what can you do?
There are lots of recommendations out there – these are all scientifically backed tips
If you just Google how to sleep better you get a lot of varying results. You'll see ads trying to sell you everything from vitamins to weighted blankets and more. Some of it can be helpful and some aren't. Here is a list of things you can do that have been the most definitively backed by science to help improve sleep. Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good sleep hygiene. Try to keep the following sleep practices on a consistent basis:
Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep, or remain asleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
Evaluate your room setup. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep, but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. People sometimes drink alcohol to help them fall asleep. While this may help initially, it actually leads to your brain not being able to engage in the important Delta wave phase of sleep (also sometimes called "deep sleep") which is why you may end up waking up still feeling tired. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
Seek professional help. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a Sleep Diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.
You don’t need an all or nothing approach with sleep hygiene, so feel free to pick and choose amongst these suggestions... try out the ones that match your main issue the best and see which ones really help you enough for you to invest in continuing long-term. Happy snoozing!