Is it weird to be jealous of hibernating animals? If so, I’m guilty as charged. A former insomniac, these days I place a high value on getting a good night of sleep to fuel a happy existence. And I’m talking about quality slumber, not waking up every hour to freak out about how little shut eye is taking place.
That’s probably because I know how valuable sleep is to every part of my life. As The Sleep Foundation explains, the eight benefits of quality sleep include: improved mood, healthy heart, regulated blood sugar, improved mental function, restored immune system, stress relief, athletic performance, and maintaining a healthy weight. Yes, all the things you need to thrive in your personal and professional life.
The good news is that you can start getting better sleep right away. One of the first steps is realizing that when you are playing rock-paper-scissors with wellness, sleep wins every time.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health
“Sleep is not one the three pillars of health. It’s actually the foundation of health so it will always win in a game of rock-paper-scissors where exercise, nutrition, and sleep are the players,” said Certified Sleep Coach Morgan Adams when I asked her about this topic.
“Without adequate quality sleep, your hormones regulating your satiety, cravings, and impulse control will decline,” she explained. “This means your food choices might not be great, which could put you at risk of weight gain. If you’re skimping on sleep then you’re more at risk of injury when exercising, and your muscles will also recover more slowly. When we prioritize our sleep, we increase our chances that our nutrition or exercise program will be successful for us.”
Determine How Much Sleep You Need
Curious how much sleep your body needs? While the rule of thumb tends to be seven to nine hours a night, go for quality over quantity. Adams gave me this great advice.
“One way you can determine how much sleep you need is to take one week where you’re ideally on vacation or don’t have any obligations that require you to wake up at a certain time,” she noted. “Using a journal or notepad, track your natural bedtime. Then record your natural wake time.
“At the end of the week, take your average total sleep time for nights 4-7,” continued Adams. “This average nightly is probably your ideal sleep need if you feel refreshed and well-rested in the morning.”
Following that rule of thumb, I’ve come to realize that about seven hours of good, mostly uninterrupted sleep is my happy place, give or take 15 minutes either way. When I don’t use an alarm on weekends or during vacations, my body tends to wake up rested within that time frame.
However, the amount of quality sleep you require varies in everyone. Some people are fine with 6.5 hours of slumber a night, while others need 8.5 hours to form coherent sentences in the morning. The key is recognizing what works for you and honoring it.
“I like to think about our sleep need similarly to how many calories we need,” added Adams. “There’s no one size fits all. Our sleep need may vary according to many different variables, even genetics.”
Strive for Non-Medicated Sleep
You may be taking prescription pills to sleep at night. While that can be essential for some individuals, Adams strongly believes that the best sleep is non-medicated.
“What I really want people to know about sleep is that the best sleep is non-medicated sleep and that sleeping pills can change the architecture of your sleep so it’s not fully restorative,” she said. “As someone who relied on prescription sleeping pills for eight years, I wish I had known that my body was capable of sleeping with the right tools and mindset.”
4 Tips to Sleep Better
Want some tips on getting more sleep? Here are four practices that might help:
1. Consistency is key.
Maybe you wake up early most days during the work week, and then try to catch up by sleeping as late as possible during the weekends. While that sounds good in theory, it is not doing you any favors. Adams advises waking up at the same time every morning, even weekends, to keep your circadian rhythm strong.
2. Banish smart devices late at night.
Texting or surfing right up until bedtime may be keeping you up later than you’d like. Blue spectrum light from devices triggers daytime hormones and suppresses melatonin, plus they emit radiation that can disrupt sleep.
If you prefer to read books or check social feeds from tablets or your phone, at least check out apps that are blue light blockers. Ideally though, it’s better for your bedtime routine to keep devices out of sight, out of mind.
Expecting an important call? Motivational speaker and television personality Mel Robbins has compromised by moving her smart phone nearby into the bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. That way she doesn’t miss a last-minute call from news shows asking for commentary on breaking situations, but it doesn’t disrupt her shut eye as the rule.
3. Create a sleep sanctuary.
According to experts at Mii Amo Destination Spa in Sedona, Arizona, you can start creating a sleep sanctuary by keeping work out of the bedroom, add fresh air whenever possible and adding plants to naturally soak up toxins. They recommend keeping your bedroom cool; the optimum room temperature for sleep is 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition, sleeping in total darkness is best since light in your bedroom suppresses melatonin. That strategy has worked for me; using a sleep mask has improved the quality and consistency of my slumber.
4. Seek natural light.
The amount of light you get throughout the day can enhance your sleep quality. The Sleep Foundation noted that “light plays a central role in regulating circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that signals when to be alert and when to rest. Light also affects the production of melatonin, an essential sleep-promoting hormone.”
Adams recommends that individuals get at least 10 minutes of morning light, without wearing sunglasses, as soon as possible after waking. She says this will encourage your hormones to be more in balance throughout the day.
What is your current take on sleep? Do you get enough of it and if so, what are some of your quality sleep strategies?