To get ahead, have as little sleep as possible to work more hours than everybody else.
That was the mantra for most parts of my 20s. The idea of productivity equals putting in more hours stuck with me.
I didn’t know the effects of not having enough sleep. Looking back now, it is obvious.
Aside from having a messed up energy pattern throughout my days, I was experiencing mood swings, over-snacking, and relying on five to six cups of coffee a day.
Not sleeping enough forced me to drink more coffee when my energy levels dropped. The heavy dose of caffeine then prevented me from going to bed at night. It was the same vicious cycle every single day.
Sleep was the last thing I cared about until I dived deeper into the topic of health and fitness.
Today, I tell my friends how they should tackle sleep first if they want to be more productive or live a healthier lifestyle.
Think about it. Instead of having to motivate yourself to do a workout or relying on willpower to resist unhealthy but yummy foods, all you need to do is nothing – just let your body rest.
This essay is a go-to guide on how to sleep, not just for you, but also for myself. It serves as a reminder when I get sidetracked and start ignoring the importance of sleep.
You need to first understand the benefits of sleeping well before you can convince yourself why sleep is so important.
Benefits of Sleep
There are many benefits to getting a good night’s sleep. It could even be the missing ingredient for a wellness goal you have.
According to the research, Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review, short sleep duration correlates with weight gain.
Sleep deprivation causes a drop in leptin, a hormone produced during sleep. It tells the brain you have sufficient energy, and there is no need to trigger the feeling of hunger or to burn calories.
Being sleep deprived also leads to an increase in ghrelin, which does the opposite of leptin. It informs the brain when you need to eat, when to stop burning calories, and when to store energy as fat.
Having too much ghrelin in your body delivers a double whammy. Your body thinks you’re hungry. But at the same time, it stops burning calories and stores them as fat because it thinks you don’t have enough.
When you are tired due to a lack of sleep, your energy expenditure during the day goes down. As a result, you don’t burn as many calories. If the amount of food you consume stays the same, more of these calories will get stored as fat.
Your body needs sleep to maintain its ability to fight off viruses and bacterias.
Research saw a reduction of natural immune responses in 42 medically and psychiatrically healthy male volunteers when they were put through a night of sleep deprivation.
Another study found those who slept less than 7 hours were almost 3 times more likely to contract a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more.
Getting enough sleep is even more important when you perform the following activities (all are associated with an increased risks of sickness):
- intense workouts
- caring for someone who fell sick
- high-stress work
Risks of Serious Diseases
A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies on sleep duration and cardiovascular outcomes tie recurring sleep loss with increased risks of developing or dying of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Another similar review finds a strong correlation between the quantity and quality of sleep with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This review matches the conclusion of two other papers. One of them shows how sleep restriction changes glucose metabolism, and the other sees a significant reduction in insulin sensitivity in test subjects when they only sleep 5 hours a day for one week.
Yes, nutrition matters a lot to avoid these serious diseases, but getting enough sleep is very important too.
Don’t follow my footsteps of trying to boost productivity by shortening sleep time. It actually makes things worse.
As shown in this research, sleep loss hurts our cognitive and behavioral performance. It also takes away the benefits of sleep on memory and insight formation, both of which are critical for learning, creativity, and scientific discovery.
In another study, researchers managed to show how the negative impacts of moderate sleep deprivation are the same as alcohol intoxication.
Yes, not having sufficient sleep has the same effect as being drunk!
According to this study, lack of sleep affects how we recognize human emotions. Your ability to identify the expression of happiness and anger goes down.
Who would have thought? Getting more sleep could be the answer if you are not doing so well when it comes to interacting with people around you.
- When is the best time to go to bed?
- How long should you sleep?
These are the two most common questions when we talk about sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep duration based on age group:
- Newborns: 14 to 17 hours
- Infants: 12 to 15 hours
- Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
- School-aged children: 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers: 8 to 10 hours
- Young adults and adults: 7 to 9 hours
- Older adults: 7 to 8 hours
Someone reading this essay is most likely to fall between the 7 to 9 hours range.
To know what time is best to go to bed, we need to figure out our chronotype.
Chronotype is the circadian rhythm, also known as the body clock, of every person. Your brain follows it for the release of certain hormones. By identifying your chronotype, you will discover your own best time to sleep and to get things done.
Dr. Michael Breus popularized the idea of chronotypes with his book, The Power of When. Besides the book, he offers an online quiz to help you determine your own chronotype.
You will get one of the four animals below, each representing a chronotype, as the result of the quiz. Here’s a quick explanation for each of them:
Most of us, including myself, fall under this category.
Bears’ body clocks follow the sun. We wake up as the sun rises. When the sun is setting, we call it a day. Falling asleep is not a problem for us.
Our energy levels stay constant throughout the day. We are the most productive before lunch, but we are also the most susceptible to the post-lunch energy dip.
Lions are early risers. They are the leaders and go-getters. Joining Robin Sharma’s 5AM Club is not going to be a problem for people with this chronotype.
They wake up early, often before sunrise, and they stay high on energy all the way till noon.
Evenings are when they wind down. They go to bed at around 9 to 10pm.
Wolves are creative individuals. If you are an artist, writer, or a coder, a wolf is the most likely result for you.
Wolves start later in the day. They are most productive when others are wrapping up the day. Peak productivity for wolves starts around noon. It lasts for about 4 hours. Another spike in energy happens at around 6pm, and they will keep working until around 10 to 11pm.
Even though they are intelligent and tend to be perfectionists, dolphins often find it difficult to follow any sleep routine.
The slightest noise or light is enough to jolt them up from their dreams. Because of this, dolphins don’t get a lot of quality sleep.
If you are a dolphin, your most productive hours are from 10am to 2pm. Your day ends around midnight, but it’s effortless for you to wake up at around 6am the next day.
How to Sleep Better
There are many ways to sleep better or fall asleep faster.
Just like any lifestyle changes, do not bite off more than you can chew. Start small. Pick one of these and try turning it into a habit before moving on to the next.
Even though there are solid scientific studies behind each of these tips, some did not work for me, and they might not work for you. You need to experiment as much as you can to find out what’s effective for your body.
Controlling Darkness and Exposure to Light
Exposure to light affects your sleep cycle.
Your brain stops producing melatonin, a hormone responsible for your body’s circadian rhythm, when you expose your body to light. As a result, falling asleep becomes difficult.
On the other hand, the best way to get out of the morning daze is to expose your body to sunlight. For example, you can open up the curtains in your room or go out for an exercise after waking up.
Try to make your room pitch black at night. Switch off the lights. Close the curtains. Flip your devices so they face downwards. Move any apparatus with bright LED lights out of the room. The darkness will prompt your brain to produce melatonin, helping you to sleep better.
Minimize Screen Time Before Bed
Other than lamps and lightbulbs, we get exposed to light through the screen of our devices.
All devices with a screen, big or small, emit blue light. Blue light has the biggest impact on attention, reaction time, and mood. Prolonged exposure to it tricks our brain to think it’s daytime and messes up our sleep cycle.
An article by the Sleep Foundation recommends a digital curfew of around 30 minutes to two hours before bed.
You can also use apps or software features to filter blue light if a digital curfew is not an option.
On Apple devices, you can activate the Night Shift feature, reduce white point, or turn on the red screen. If you are using an Android or Windows device, search for the Night Light or Blue Light Filter settings. PCMag has a comprehensive article with screenshots showing where to find the toggles.
Eliminate Caffeine Intake
Caffeine affects sleep. You should not drink coffee or any beverage with caffeine when it’s almost bedtime. Else, you’ll have trouble falling asleep. These are facts almost everybody who relies on the stimulant is aware of.
But not many of us know what time of day we should refrain from ingesting caffeine. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the answer is 6 hours.
Results of the study show a moderate dose of caffeine at bedtime, 3 hours before bedtime, or 6 hours before bedtime has significant adverse effects on sleep.
Stop getting coffee from 4pm onwards if you are going to bed at 10pm.
Exercising increases your body temperature. After a workout, the higher temperature will go down later in the day. According to the Sleep Foundation, the slight drop triggers feelings of drowsiness, which then helps you to dose off in a shorter amount of time.
Recent research also shows moderate physical activity is beneficial to sleep quality.
However, you should avoid strenuous exercises if bedtime is less than one hour away. Doing so impairs your sleep efficiency and time, according to a study by Sports Medicine.
There is no need for medications if you just need a little help to sleep better. In the market, there are a few types of natural supplements to try.
Yes, melatonin, the hormone I mentioned earlier in this essay, is ingestible. It comes in the form of liquid, chewable, and pills.
Melatonin as a supplement grew in popularity in the last few years. Frequent travelers take it to defeat jet lag and shift workers use it to sleep longer during the daytime.
According to this WebMD article, melatonin supplements can help insomnia patients fall asleep faster. Taking it will help you sleep better throughout the night, but not necessarily longer.
Read the labels carefully before consuming melatonin supplements. Some of them have a timed-release. You have to take them at a specific hour before your bedtime.
Melatonin is safe for most of us to consume, but keep an eye out for the side effects. If you experience any, please consult your doctor.
Magnesium is a mineral essential to our brain and heart health. There are also several studies showing its significance in improving sleep quality.
Taking magnesium pills is one way to supplement your body with this mineral.
Since it is also transdermal, you can enjoy magnesium’s benefits by applying it as a lotion or oil on your skin. Another popular transdermal delivery for magnesium among athletes is by taking an Epsom salt bath. The baths are very effective in reducing muscle soreness and aiding recovery.
In a study, 46 elderly adults were given 500mg of magnesium or a placebo daily for eight weeks. Participants from the magnesium group saw an increase in sleep time and efficiency. There was also an increase in the concentration of melatonin for the same individuals.
Magnesium also has benefits such as reducing muscle cramps and soreness besides promoting better sleep. You can read more about the benefits of the mineral and how to get rid of magnesium deficiency in this article by Ben Greenfield.
Lavender is a flower known for its calming and relaxing effects.
In a journal called Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a study saw the positive effects of lavender odor on sleep quality across healthy adults, patients with heart disease, and mid-life women with insomnia.
To improve your sleep, you can either use an air diffuser to spread the scents of lavender essential oil across your bedroom or drip a few droplets of the essential oil on your pillow cover.
Sleep Music / Nature Sounds / ASMR
Having music with a slow beat or nature sounds playing in the background as you doze off is another way to help you fall asleep.
Dr. Michael Breus, in a WebMD article, said the music-sleep connection has been supported in studies all over the world.
Your heart rate slows down to 60 beats per minute when you are falling asleep, and music with a rhythm of around 60 beats per minute will help tune it towards that state.
Listening to calming music or nature sounds also drowns out any environmental noise, creating a better sleep environment.
You can find audio tracks designed to help you fall asleep on music streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music. Many meditation apps are starting to offer these tracks too.
ASMR, short for the autonomous sensory meridian response, is an experience of pleasure and tingling taking place along a person’s head and neck when presented with an image or audio.
Some of the most popular ASMR videos or audios are of people performing very basic actions such as brushing their hair, flipping books, tapping on the surface of different objects, or whispering to a microphone.
You can watch this video to get an idea of the experience.
There is no research tying ASMR content to sleep efficiency yet, but a lot of people are using it to help them fall asleep. A 2018 study connects the consumption of ASMR content to a reduction in heartbeat rhythms. This creates a state of calm and relaxation, which is conducive for sleep.
One way to measure the impact of consuming these content is through a sleep tracking device.
Today, there are many solutions to track sleep quality.
You can either get a smartwatch, a fitness tracker, or an app like Sleep Cycle. All of them give you data on sleep quality.
Their accuracy is often disputed by healthcare professionals, but you can still use them to observe the basic correlation between certain activities and their impact on your sleep quality.
Tracking your sleep, looking at the data, and trying to draw conclusions is not an easy thing to do. For most of you reading this, I don’t recommend going down this path unless you are very curious about it.
If you are planning to download one of those sleep tracking apps, think twice if you sleep with a partner. The collected data might be incorrect because they do not differentiate whether the sounds and vibrations they detect are coming from you or your partner.
My Current Approach to Sleep
Today, I go to bed at a fixed time. I try not to sacrifice my sleep, so I have it scheduled on my calendar.
If I need to attend a social event in the evening, I will clear up my schedule for the day after, so I can sleep for at least 8 hours. Even so, I only allow this to happen once a week.
After 5:00pm, my devices enable the Night Shift feature. If I must use them to read or write, I turn on the red filter to minimize the impact of blue light.
I’m a bear, so my body clock follows the sun. However, I like to start my day early. Enabling Night Shift earlier is a hack to send a signal to my body, telling it to start winding down even before sunset.
At 8:00pm, I start my winding down routine.
I kickstart the whole sequence by popping a Magnesium Citramate pill by Thorne Research. If I had an intense workout, I will apply the Life-Flo Magnesium Lotion to sore muscles or parts of my body experiencing tightness.
I then set the alarm on my phone and leave all my devices on the work desk, out of my hand’s reach when I’m in bed.
Dripping a few drops of lavender essential oil on my pillow before laying down is a must.
Once everything is set, I lay down and start dozing off.
On days when I just can’t fall asleep, I follow the meditation technique of closing my eyes and focusing on my breathing. 10 minutes of that takes me to slumberland.
Sleep Well, Live Well
Everything you do, you’ll do better with a good night’s sleep. – Arianna Huffington
There is nothing more important than getting a good night’s sleep if you want to live a healthier lifestyle, have higher energy levels, and experience better moods throughout your day.
Go on, bookmark this page, and start experimenting with the tips above to sleep better.
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