It is hard to come up with a new and enticing way to introduce the importance of sleep. It feels a bit like telling someone to eat more vegetables. There isn’t a whole lot of new ground to cover. Everyone already knows the basics. Sleep, good. Veggies, good. People quickly respond with a “Yeah, yeah. I know I need more sleep. But who’s got time?”
But here is what I wonder: what if the very reason we are constantly running with our days filled to the brim is because we are not getting enough sleep? Our brains are not functioning at full capacity when we lack sleep and, thus, our daily tasks not only take longer, but are actually more challenging. Chronic lack of sleep (anything below 7-8 hours of sleep) has been found to result in:
- Problem solving challenges
- Auditory and visual processing delays
- Attention deficiets
These are only some of the impacts on the brain. Lack of sleep, however, affects every organ and system in the body. It is tied to obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, and heart disease. It impacts our ability to relate to those around us, making relationship challenges (both at work and at home) more likely. So, while we know that sleep is good for us, we might not fully appreciate just how bad lack of sleep is for us.
Trying to get more sleep might feel like trying to find the right time to leap from a spinning merry-go-round. Even once you do, you find yourself laying there with a spinning head. Here are a few tips to ease the transition:
No Blue-Light Zone
I would like to tell you to plug up your electronics in different room than your bedroom. Not only is it likely to keep our minds overly active and pulling us to work and other tasks, the blue light emitting from our devices inhibits the production of our natural melatonin making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you can’t make the break of having your devices in the room (full disclosure, I can’t either), turn the settings to low or use the blue light filter available on most devices.
Meditation used to be associated primarily with spiritual practices like Buddhism. This is no longer the case. Mindfulness meditation is shown to ease insomnia as it allows to mind to focus on the present without the distractions of the past or future. There are many options for guided meditation that can be beneficial for learning. Apps like Calm have specific sleep meditations that help to ease you to sleep through both mind and body relaxation techniques.
Focus on Rest, Not Sleep
Our brains tend to turn into stubborn, unruly toddlers when we try to tell it what to do. While it sounds counter-intuitive, don’t try to go to sleep. Instead, focus on the enjoyment of rest. Let go of the pressure of falling asleep. Make sure the temperature in your room is ideal for you (cooler rooms induce more restful sleep) and bedding is cozy. Darken the room as much as possible. Focus on the pleasure of finally laying down in a comfortable position. Listening to ambient noise (crickets chirping, a fan blowing, waves crashing) while breathing deeply allows the body to transition into a deep state of rest, then sleep.
It takes an average of two months before habits become automatic. Take the winter months of dark afternoons and quiet evenings to begin your sleep habit makeover. Making small changes to your sleep habits will show up in your overall well-being, physical health, and way you approach the world around.