You're a busy person with lots of obligations. You work, have kids, take care of elderly parents, and try to grab some quality time with your significant other now and then. Maybe you have a commute that cuts another few hours out of your life every day. Squeezing all you can out of your daylight hours gets challenging. Something has to give. That "something" usually ends up being precious sleep. At first, getting fewer than 7-8 hours of shut-eye a night seems doable. How much sleep does a grown adult need anyway?
The National Sleep Foundation recommendations the following:
- Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours each day
- Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours
- School-age children (6 to 13 years): 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 to 10 hours
- Adults (18 to 64 years): 7 to 9 hours
- Older adults (over 65 years): 7 to 8 hours
Alarmingly, most people who are in sleep deprivation are unaware of it. Life is moving so fast, it's difficult to identify lack of sleep unless you stop and think about it: By the time you can approach the idea of going to bed it's past midnight. The day's stress is still clinging to you, scenarios flashing through your mind for review. By the time you nod off, it's five hours to go-time. No matter your age, if you're getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night over an extended period, you're a prime candidate for sleep deprivation. Sleep loss alters the ability to focus on sensory input, weakens the immune system, causes memory problems, and can lead to depression. Sleep-deprived people are more likely to report feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, powerlessness, failure, low self-esteem, poor job performance, conflicts with coworkers, and reduced quality of life. These are also symptoms of burnout, which is much more difficult to overcome than it is to avoid. Caffeine and other stimulants might make someone feel energized, but they don't eliminate the physical and psychological implications of sleep deprivation. If you've been feeling a bit off your game lately, you should take steps now to revise your sleep habits.
5 Hacks for Sleeping Like a Baby
1. Exercise During the Day
We all need some level of exercise on most days. I emphasize days rather than nights so you can develop your evening routine (see below.) Easier said than done! If your day already begins at 5 a.m. and doesn't end until 8 p.m., there's no room for exercise. Especially during the day. At best, you might take the dog for a short walk after dinner. Or perhaps the only time you can make it to the gym is after dinner and, by then, you're way too spent.
I recommend getting your workout early in the day. Does it sound like pure madness to wake up even one more hour earlier than usual? I used to think so. I was already up at 6 a.m. No way was I going to get up any earlier than that for anything! Until I tried it. I started waking up at 4:30 a.m. and found it's doable. My days are so much better because I've had ample time to wake up, rehydrate, work out, pray, have breakfast, pet the dog, and get ready to face the world. Not a fan of waking up earlier? How about getting in a quick workout over your lunch hour? Even if you have a desk job, you can still work out during the day by using our 5 Hacks to Sneak Exercise into Your Workspace. Getting into new habits can be life-changing. Remember, a new activity becomes a habit after only 6 weeks. Give yourself ample time to get there and your new habits become a great routine.
2. Manage Your Use of Technology
Reserve the bedroom for sleeping only. No TV, no mini office, just sleep. Avoid the top three bedtime crimes of technology:
- Listening to the evening news. What a downer. Trying to sleep with a head reeling with the latest crimes and ugliness of the world just doesn't work.
- Checking last-minute emails and texts. Way too stressful! All too often, a quick email check leads to ruminating all night about tomorrow's issues.
- Skimming social media. A quick look at what friends are doing on social media seems harmless. Before you know it another hour passes, your arms are asleep but you aren't.
3. Develop Relaxation Techniques
The first step in lulling yourself to sleep is to relax. You don't realize how tense you are when you finally find yourself ready for slumber. Breathing exercises, meditation techniques, and muscle relaxation exercises are proven methods that help with creating a sense of wellbeing. Audio recordings are surprisingly helpful. I was a true skeptic at the thought of listening to sleep meditation recordings at bedtime. I was sure this droning in my ear would have the opposite effect and keep me awake even longer. After listening to the first ten minutes of my first meditation recording, I was out like a light. A coincidence? I thought so myself until I tried a different meditation recording. Same effect. I was out like a light before the recording was halfway over. This happens every time.
I'm using Amazon Audible to listen to e-books and meditations. The monthly subscription price is reasonable and comes with monthly credits to be used toward e-book purchases.
4. Stop Ruminating
Sometimes work is pretty hectic. Even on perfect days, we wind down by reviewing the various successes and failures we encountered. People need to feel a sense of accomplishment so rehashing the day's events becomes an insidious habit. It seems normal to acknowledge a job well done and to troubleshoot something that didn't go quite right. As time goes on, this ruminating begins to invade every moment of your life. You find yourself thinking about work when you're out socializing with friends or suddenly a work issue pops into your mind while you're helping kids with homework. Know this: Your ruminating is keeping you from living in the moment and people can sense it. You're not there, after all, you're slightly sidetracked. You're missing the pure joy of camaraderie with friends or not realizing your child's fantastic ability to do the new math.
Ruminating often invades your bedtime thoughts. You're finally ready to hit the sack and your mind is reeling with the politics of the day, the person you tried to help but couldn't, the other rude person you had to deal with. Your ruminating is eroding your sleep. You'll need to mindfully change this habit. When you find yourself ruminating, stop. Mentally or verbally tell yourself to stop thinking about work. Purposefully think about something else. Pray, chant, listen to relaxing music.
Participate meaningfully in social conversations and get into discussions with kids over homework. At bedtime, focus on the relaxation techniques you've developed. You'll find there's so much more to life than work.
5. Follow an Evening Routine
On most days, life consists of a series of repeated events. We wake up, go to work or school, run errands, pick up kids, solve problems, and deal with the unexpected. With so much activity going on, it can be difficult to de-stress at the end of the day. A consistent routine helps to naturally coax the body into relaxing. Here's an example evening routine that is sure to have you droopy-eyed in no time:
- Avoid eating a meal 2-3 hours before bedtime. Instead, have a protein shake using casein protein to accelerate fat burning and keep you comfortably satiated through the night. We use Six Star Elite Series Casein Protein. The triple chocolate flavor turns into a thick, delicious shake by mixing with ice, water, and coffee. No need for a blender.
- Avoid using technology 2-3 hours before bedtime. Start by turning off the TV after an hour of your favorite shows. While you're at it, turn off your laptop and cell phone as well. Doing this allows you some time to just chill out. What on earth would you do without technology for 2-3 hours? Read a book or a magazine. Or listen to some relaxing music. Or have a pleasant conversation with family members or roommates, avoiding touchy subjects. You'd be surprised at how much more at peace you will feel by bedtime.
- Create a relaxing sleep space. A clean and cozy bed with soft pillows is inviting. Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark. Darkness is important for allowing the body to naturally produce serotonin, the sleep hormone.
- Engage in a relaxing activity such as a warm bath or a half-hour of mediation or bible reading.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time whenever possible. Use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep and wake up to some bright and cheerful music instead of a cranky alarm. We use the Amazon Echo to wake up to our favorite tunes.
Sleep deprivation substantially lowers the overall quality of life. It disrupts the brain’s ability to manage thoughts and emotions, wreaks havoc on the immune system, and increases the chances of burnout. You can avoid sleep deprivation by following our 5 hacks for sleeping like a baby. Have a great night!
- The national sleep foundation recommends new sleep times. (2015, February 2)
- Kilgore, W. D. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition [Abstract]. Progress in Brain Research, 185, 105-129
- Naitoh, P., Kelly, T. L., & Englund, C. (1990). Health effects of sleep deprivation. Occupational Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, 5(2), 209-237
- Epstein, L. & Mardon, S. (2007). The Harvard Medical School Guide to a good night's sleep. McGraw Hill, NY.