How many hours of sleep did you get last night? If it was less than seven, then you're among the many Americans who are sleep deprived. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one-third of U.S. workers gets less than six hours of sleep a day, while the recommended amount is seven to eight hours.
Perhaps you're thinking, "But I feel fine on just six hours!" The problem is not how you feel right now, but the long-term effects: Countless studies have found that sleep plays a critical role our immunity, metabolism, memory, learning, and other essential functions. At the very least, your productivity suffers; at the very worst, so does your health. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of developing serious medical conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and mood disorders.
Now the good news: You can start developing better sleeping habits today.
Dr. Travis Bradberry, a PhD in clinical psychology and co-founder of emotional intelligence testing and training company TalentSmart, shared 10 strategies for fighting sleep deprivation in a recent LinkedIn post.
Here are five of the best to implement immediately.
1. Drink caffeine only in the morning.
If you're a coffee lover, don't fret. You can enjoy your favorite roast and still get a restful night's sleep so long as you make it a morning habit only. "Caffeine has a 6-hour half-life, which means it takes a full 24 hours to work its way out of your system," writes Bradberry. "Have a cup of joe at 8 a.m., and you'll still have 25 percent of the caffeine in your body at 8 p.m. Anything you drink after noon will still be near 50 percent strength at bedtime." The more caffeine in your bloodstream, the harder it will be to sleep.
2. Avoid mobile devices at night.
The next time you sit in your dimmed bedroom with the soft, blue glow of your mobile device on your face, consider this: Laptops, tablets, and mobile phones emit short-wavelength blue light, which halts production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and, in turn, makes you feel more alert. "The best thing you can do is avoid these devices after dinner," Bradberry advises. If you must use your mobile device in the evening, add a filter or app that limits the amount of blue light emitted.
3. Wake up at a consistent time.
Keeping a consistent schedule is critical to your sleep, especially when it comes to waking up. When you have a regular wake-up time, your brain responds to it by gradually increasing your hormone levels, body temperature, and blood pressure roughly an hour before you rise. "When you don't wake up at the same time every day, your brain doesn't know when to complete the sleep process and when it should prepare you to be awake," warns Bradberry. No matter if it's a workday or weekend, awake at a consistent hour. "Sleeping in on the weekend is a counterproductive way to catch up on your sleep."
4. Stay away from sedatives.
Sedatives are more harmful than helpful to your sleep cycle. "Anything that interferes with the brain's natural sleep process has dire consequences for the quality of your sleep," Bradberry writes. "Whether it's alcohol, Nyquil, Benadryl, Valium, Ambien, or what have you, these substances greatly disrupt your brain's natural sleep process." If you are dependent on sedatives, scale back your use gradually by implementing the other strategies on this list.
5. Nap it off.
There's a biological reason you start feeling sleepy after lunchtime regardless of what you ate. Between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m., your level of melatonin begins to surge. If you've had enough sleep the night prior, your body is prepared to fight the sleepiness. If not, the quickest fix is to take a short nap of even 15 minutes. "Companies like Google and Zappos are capitalizing on this need by giving employees the opportunity to take short afternoon naps," writes Bradberry. If you're not able to nap, fight the urge to have caffeine, which will only make it harder for you to sleep later on.