Sleep: Why it’s Important & How to Get More of It

We live in a world where sleep, rest, and relaxation are denigrated and overworking and under-sleeping are worn as badges of honor. We take pride in our ability to “function” on 4 hours of sleep and handle ever-increasing responsibilities. These attitudes are causing damage to our mental and physical health and well being, get in the way of creativity and productivity, and cause problems in our relationships. We’ve all heard the phrase “I’ll sleep when I die” but the reality is that not sleeping enough means that we will die sooner. For more information about this, check out this informative Ted-Ed video on sleep deprivation.

In order for us to live happier, healthier, more productive lives, it is essential that we get enough sleep. Research has demonstrated that we need about 7-9 hours of sleep each night. While it may not be possible for us to get this much sleep every night (especially for new parents), it is something we should strive for. Additionally, if we are starting to feel badly and get sick this is probably a good sign that we should make an effort to get more sleep. In this post I will highlight some mindset changes that will help you prioritize getting enough sleep as well as some strategies to help you get better quality sleep.

Changes in Mindset 

Sleep is necessary for your health

Our bodies use sleep to rest and recuperate from the things that we put them through every day. When we don’t get enough sleep, our immune system takes a hit and we are more likely to get sick with a cold or flu. Not getting enough sleep is also connected to long-term health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and strokes. Just like regular exercise, getting enough sleep is an important aspect of getting and staying healthy. Additionally, if you are trying to lose weight, it is important to know that when you do not sleep enough you are likely to feel hungrier than usual and overeat. I find that I crave more junk food on the days after I haven’t gotten enough sleep. When we get enough sleep not only are we giving our bodies the chance to do what they need to in order to keep us healthy, it will also be easier for us to engage in consistent exercise and make healthier eating choices.

In addition to negatively impacting our physical health, not getting enough sleep also takes a toll on our mental health. When we don’t sleep enough we are more likely to feel irritable, have a short temper, and experience mood fluctuations. I notice that whenever I don’t get enough sleep, I feel overwhelmed by the the things that I need to do and I’m more likely to feel anxious. All of these things influence our well being, relationships, and ability to do the things we need to do. In contrast, when we do sleep enough we are more likely to feel up beat, have the mental energy to talk through interpersonal challenges, and to feel like we can handle the things on our plates.

Getting enough sleep will help you to be productive 

While people often fail to get enough sleep in an attempt to get more work done, this strategy is usually ineffective because being sleep deprived ultimately makes you less productive. When you don’t get enough sleep you are likely to have difficulty concentrating, be less creative, work more slowly, have trouble remembering things, and make more mistakes. Also, if you are a studying something, while you are sleeping your brain solidifies memories so if you are trying to learn something new, not sleeping enough is undercutting your efforts.

When you do get enough sleep you will have the energy to tackle projects, problem-solve, work efficiently, concentrate for extended periods of time, and remember things. All of this will help you accomplish your goals.

It is important to note that oversleeping (11+ hours/night on a regular basis) can be a sign of depression or other medical concerns. If you are consistently sleeping more than usual and still feel fatigued this is something you should talk to your doctor about.

Strategies for getting enough sleep 

I grouped the following strategies roughly based on common challenges that people have when trying to get enough sleep. Please note that taking sleeping pills is not included in this list. Sleeping pills can be addictive and create a negative cycle so I encourage you not to use them. If you have tried the strategies listed below and are still having trouble getting enough sleep you may benefit from seeking professional help from a therapist or medical professional.

Not getting enough sleep

  • Prioritize your sleep – People often find it hard to get enough sleep because they have not made it a priority. Hopefully the health and productivity benefits I reviewed earlier in this post will help motivate you to prioritize your sleep.
  • Set a regular bed time – Some people have a hard time getting enough sleep because they watch TV or keep working late into the night. I encourage you to set a bed time and set a calendar alert/alarm to remind you that it is time to go to bed so that you don’t forget.

Difficulty falling asleep 

  • Create a bedtime routine – Having a bed time routine can let your body know it is time to relax and get ready for bed. This could include reading a book (not on a brightly lit electronically device), brushing your teeth, praying or meditating, listening to calming music, etc.
  • Go to bed at a consistent time every night – Letting your body know that a particular time of night is bed time can help you to fall asleep more quickly.
  • Wake up at the same time every day – Even if you do not fall asleep until very late, try to get up at the same time every day if you have trouble falling asleep. This will also signal to your body to get on a schedule and the fatigue should make it easier to fall asleep the next night.
  • Drink chamomile tea before bed – Drinking chamomile tea an hour or so before can help your body to calm down
  • Unplug at least 30 minutes before bed – Turn off your computer/tablet and stop going on your phone and stop doing work. Let your mind calm down by disengaging from work, news, and media.
  • Do a body scan – A Body Scan for Sleep can help you let go of thoughts and relax, which will make it easier to fall asleep. Click the link above to download a free audio guided body scan.
  • Take a bath or shower at night – Taking a bath or shower at night can be soothing and can signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep.
  • Set aside a “worry” time – if you find that thinking and worrying is keeping you from falling asleep set aside 30 minutes at least an hour before you go to bed to write down all of your worries. This may help to get them out of your head. You can do something similar if your mind focuses on things you have to do when you lay down.
  • Listen to white noise or background sounds – Listening to low level noise can help keep your brain from paying attention to every sound it hears and can be soothing. There are a number of phone apps that provide a variety of these noises for free.

Waking up during the night 

  • Make sure the room where you sleep is quiet and dark
  • Exercise regularly – Regular exercise can increase your quality of sleep. If you have some flexibility in your schedule try to figure out whether working out in the morning or at night works better for your sleep. Some people find that working out at night is too energizing and other people feel that exercising in the evenings increases feelings of fatigue and helps them to sleep.
  • Watch your alcohol consumption at night – Drinking alcohol lowers the quality of your sleep. You are more likely to wake up during the night and have less restful sleep if you drink at night. If you have been having this problem consider cutting back or only drinking on the weekends.
  • Set aside a “worry” time (see above)
  • Drink fewer liquids before bed – When you drink a lot of liquids right before bed your body is more likely to wake you up to pee.
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” mode so that your sleep won’t be interrupted
  • If you wake up during the night try to continue relaxing in bed. If you have been in bed for a long period of time and begin to get restless you can get up and read a book (not on a lit electronic device) for a bit until you feel tired again.

If you are someone who has been having difficulty getting enough sleep I encourage you to identify 1-2 of these strategies to begin trying based on what has made it hard for you to sleep. You can gradually make your way through additional strategies as needed. Sweet Dreams!

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