I’ve never been a great sleeper. I’m not the kind of person who falls asleep as soon as my head hits my pillow. I’m more of the ‘toss and turn all night until my alarm goes off’ kind of sleeper.
The outcome of my poor sleeping habits is pretty obvious – I’m tired. All the time. And it’s not a particularly pleasant feeling. Especially when you can barely keep your eyes open at work because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before or didn’t sleep well.
For at least the last two and a half years, I’ve been working off some serious sleep debt (defined as going two nights or more with less than eight hours of sleep). I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a lot of adults who get anywhere near eight hours of sleep even once a month, let alone every single day. Especially if you have children or are a shift worker.
Like so many of us these days, my sleep debt is compounded by how I spend my work day. I’m paid to stare at a screen – I manage websites and social media accounts, and I love my job. My day job, coupled with my blog means I spent most of my waking hours every day staring at some form of screen.
All of that blue light does start to take a toll on your body’s ability to fall asleep when you need to and stay asleep through the night. The effects of poor sleeping habits go beyond just being tired from time to time. Chronic sleep debt (aka not getting 8 hours of sleep a night), doubles your risk of having a heart attack and quadruples your risk of having a stroke. These are some serious health complications from something most of us consider innocuous and not that important.
With these grave statistics and a weary head in mind, I’ve finally started to chip away at my sleep debt. A couple of habits have been key in my journey to a good night’s sleep.
One of the things I’m trying to do more of as a healthy habit is going to bed anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour earlier than I am used to. I normally go to bed at 11 pm. So, for the last little while, I’ve been trying to go to bed anywhere from 10 pm to 10:45 pm. Going to bed just a little bit earlier every night has led to me sleeping more soundly. I’ve been much less restless in my sleep, waking up only when my alarm goes off at 6:40 am. That kind of uninterrupted sleep time is unheard of for me.
However, paying off my sleep debt goes beyond just getting more actual hours of sleep. It also involves creating healthier habits throughout my day to set myself up for sleep success. And those habits are much harder to cultivate and are easier to write off as not important.
Because I do spend so much of my waking hours staring at screens, a key part of tackling my sleep debt involves separating myself from my phone when I walk through my door at the end of the day. Sometimes that means physically leaving my phone in a drawer in another room, and sometimes that means using apps like Flipd to lock me out of my phone so I can’t use it even if I want to.
It shouldn’t be that difficult to create distance from our technology, but our brains are not built to withstand the kind of stimulation that they provide. A lot of the apps we use on a daily basis are designed to keep us looking at them. And they are very good at that purpose.
Another key component of creating better sleep hygiene for myself involves starting the process of going to sleep early. I’ve started brushing my teeth earlier, getting my lunch ready for work and settling into bed with a good book. All of those little things add up and send signals to my body to say, “sleep is imminent, prepare to be rested!”
I held out for a long time before trying to tackle my sleep debt. I thought that if I started going to bed earlier, I’d be missing out on something (like hanging out with my partner, or scrolling through social media just one more time). What I’ve realized is that I can go to bed earlier and not miss out on anything. What I gained in the way of a good night’s sleep, greatly outweighs any of the perceived drawbacks (like not being able to squeeze in another episode of whatever Netflix show I happen to be watching at the time). I needed to come to a place where I viewed a portion of my evening as genuinely my time. Time that I can use as I see fit. That was a challenging place to get to. But, my well-rested self knows it was worth it.