We all know that sleep is essential for wellbeing, but very few take the issue of sleeping very seriously. We laugh at how few "Z"s we get, and occasionally wear it as a badge of honor that we can sleep so little and stay so busy. However, sleep deprivation is considered an epidemic with far-reaching consequences. In 2016, The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that sleep deprivation was a "public health problem" and this predicament is not getting any better. Many people seem to have given into the fact that their permanent state of being is one of fatigue and exhaustion -- but we shouldn't give up on healthier slumber. Stress and sleep deprivation make an unrelenting and hazardous combination, resulting in a troublesome vicious cycle.
Everyone knows that lack of sleep impacts your performance at work. A good night's rest is essential for boosting your immune system and building emotional resilience, helping you handle challenging situations and keeping your mind focused. Researchers from University College London recently uncovered a new discovery about how sleep is regulated in the brain. Essentially, the study found that brain activity intensity drives the need for sleep. "There are two systems regulating sleep: the circadian and homeostatic systems. We understand the circadian system pretty well -- our built-in 24-hour clock that times our biological rhythms, including sleep cycles, and we know where in the brain this rhythm is generated," commented lead author Dr. Jason Rihel. "But the homeostatic system, which causes us to feel increasingly tired after a very long day or a sleepless night, is not well understood. What we've found is that it appears to be driven not just by how long you've been awake for, but how intensive your brain activity has been since you last slept."
I am not a sleep expert, but I have fine-tuned my sleep hygiene habits over the years so that I get eight hours of slumber each night. I pack a lot into my work and social schedule, including traveling for business, and I can tell you unequivocally that getting adequate sleep cuts my stress level down significantly. Exercise, diet, and meditation are also part of a whole-body approach that I employ, along with the following tips. It takes patience, practice and mindfulness to break the "no sleep" cycle. Remember, if you can't do it on your own, be sure to seek professional help when necessary.
1. Manage your devices.
We've all heard this "device advice" before -- unplug at night. Try to reduce your amount of screen time at least one to two hours before bed. If you use your phone as an alarm, turn it to flight mode before going to bed. Think of your bedroom as a sanctuary by keeping it as calm and relaxing as possible. Turn off the TV, refrain from checking your emails, or even reading a stimulating book that may keep your brain engaged once you turn off the light. If you absolutely must check your emails before bed, consider investing in blue light blocking glasses.
2. Listen to music.
Some people prefer to sleep with soft "white noise" in the background -- particularly in noisy environments to drown out distracting sounds. Alternatively, listening to soothing music before going to sleep can help you relax before turning out the lights.
3. Be consistent.
Just like most school-aged children have a regular bedtime hour, it's beneficial to keep up the practice as an adult. A fatigued body and mind can benefit from routine. Try going to bed at the same time each night.
4. Try meditation.
Adopting a consistent meditation practice has been lifechanging for me. Mindfulness meditation practices before bed -- even for five to ten minutes can help to shift your awareness and calm the mind and body. Many meditation apps offer guided meditations, specifically geared to help you relax and fall asleep.
5. Environment matters.
Environmental factors have a significant impact on sleep quality. Ensure that your room is as dark as possible (eliminate light radiating alarm clocks, devices, night lights, etc.) or wear a sleep mask to block out light. Monitor the temperature of your bedroom and think cool as opposed to warm. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that the ideal bedroom temperature for optimal sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Set an intention.
Constructive, repetitive thoughts reinforce positive attitudes and behaviors. Stop saying, "I can never get enough sleep," to others. Many people even get to the point where they feel anxiety around bedtime. The next time you catch yourself thinking negatively on the topic of sleep, try reframing to a more positive intention such as, "tonight, I am open to falling asleep with ease." It may feel strange at first -- but don't give up. With time, you are likely to experience a shift in your sleep habits.
7. Snack smart.
Eating a heavy meal close to bedtime is never a good idea, but there are some foods -- in moderate amounts -- that researchers agree can help trigger a good night's rest. Nighttime snack foods include almonds, tart cherry juice, and chamomile or "Tulsi" herbal tea. Many doctors also recommend taking a good quality magnesium supplement before bed to help you fall asleep faster and remain sleeping for more extended periods.