New research shows that getting enough sleep is more important to your health than eating healthy, working out, and not smoking—combined!
I was shocked when I read about the massive amount of sleep research showing just how important sleep really is to maintaining good health.
Why Sleep Is Important
When you don’t get enough sleep at night, here’s what happens to your body:
- Your immune system starts to shut down, making you get sick more easily, and you can even develop autoimmune disorders
- Your endothelial cells (the special cells that line your blood vessels) die and cannot regenerate, causing cardiovascular damage that can lead to heart disease and death
- Cancer cells are more likely to form, proliferate, and metastasize
- You dramatically increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke
- You dramatically increase your risk for many mental illnesses including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more
- You dramatically increase your risk of dying from all causes (all-cause mortality risk)
If that’s not scary enough, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the results of the research into sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation.
I could go on and on about the detrimental effects of not getting enough sleep, but if you really want to dive deep into the research on sleep you should check out the book by one of the world’s top researchers called Why We Sleep. It covers the scientific research in much more depth than we can cover here in this blog post.
I’m going to assume you’ve gotten the point so far, and that you really do care about getting enough sleep.
So let’s talk about 11 simple things you can do to sleep better starting tonight.
1. Set a Sleep Schedule
You should create a consistent schedule for going to bed and waking up every day.
When you go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time every day, you’re much more likely to balance your circadian rhythm, and your sleep quality will improve.
People who have irregular bedtimes and waking times are much more likely to become sleep deprived and suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, which also increases your risks for many other diseases as we briefly discussed already.
Night Owls v. Morning Larks
Before you determine your ideal bedtime and waking time, you need to find out if you’re a night owl or morning lark.
Night owls tend to go to bed much later than most people (at midnight or later) and they tend to sleep in much later.
Morning larks go to bed much earlier (often well before midnight) and wake up much earlier. We usually call them “morning people.”
These differences are largely genetic—night owls just tend to feel better with a later bedtime, and morning larks just feel better going to bed early and waking up early.
If you’re not sure which type you are, experiment with different bedtimes and notice how you feel that day. Do you feel better when you go to bed late and sleep late or when you go to bed early and sleep early?
Once you figure out which type you are, you need to set a reasonable sleeping and waking schedule based on your genetic sleep type. If you get this one simple change down, you’ll feel much better because you’ll sleep much better.
2. Follow Your Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s clock that tells you when you should sleep and wake up.
You want to maintain a steady circadian rhythm throughout the days, weeks, and months of the year so that you can maintain a steady sleep schedule and sleep well consistently.
Your circadian rhythm can get messed up by the following things:
- Traveling to different time zones (jet lag)
- Not sleeping at night, all-nighters, and working the night shift
- Caffeine and alcohol
- Lack of access to sunlight during the day, or too much blue light at night
While you may not want to cut out caffeine or traveling to different time zones altogether, you should pay attention to how these things affect your circadian rhythm and sleep, and do your best to maintain balance.
It might sound like a fun idea to travel to 10 different countries in 10 different time zones over the span of a few weeks, but it could also push your circadian rhythm so out of whack that you could develop serious sleep and health problems.
3. Practice Biphasic Sleep
Humans evolved to have biphasic sleep, meaning we sleep around 8 hours at night and for 30-60 minutes during an afternoon nap. This is how our ancestors slept for most of human history, and it’s how we evolved over time.
Therefore, the ideal sleeping schedule is likely to be the one we evolved to keep, and that means you should consider adding in a 30-60 minute nap in the afternoon when your circadian rhythm is low. For most folks, that’s between the hours of 2 pm and 4 pm.
You’ll notice when your energy drops significantly in the afternoon—that’s usually the ideal time to take a quick power nap.
4. Bedtime Routine
Create a daily bedtime sleep routine that gets your body and mind prepared to go to sleep at your scheduled bedtime.
Your bedtime routine can be as simple as washing your face, brushing your teeth, and doing a gentle breathing exercise for a few minutes. It doesn’t have to be complex, but you should try to develop a steady routine to ensure you fall asleep quickly and easily at night instead of tossing and turning.
5. Lower the Thermostat
Your body must cool its core temperature at night in order to initiate the onset of sleep. If you don’t cool off your core body temperature, you will have serious trouble falling asleep at night.
There are a few things you can do to help your body with this process and making falling asleep so much easier:
- Cool down your bedroom at night (turn down the thermostat at night, open a window if it’s cool outside, or turn on a fan to help your body cool off)
- Wash yourself (take a bath, shower, or just wash your face, hands, or feet—even hot water will help your body cool off when it evaporates)
- Let your feet, hands, or head out from under the blankets because these are the primary body parts that help you shed heat from your body’s core
6. Eliminate Noise
Unexpected noises can easily disrupt your sleep or keep you from falling asleep quickly, especially if you live in a city, have pets, or your neighbors make noise at night.
If you can, try to dampen out any unexpected noises with white noise—the sound of a fan, air filter, or a white noise machine will work great.
If you tend to leave the window open but find yourself waking up because of noises outside, consider closing the window to protect yourself from noises that could wake you up.
7. Limit Light While Sleeping
Excess light in your bedroom can make it harder to fall asleep, and it can even disrupt your hormones and the quality of your sleep without you even noticing.
For this reason, you should try to eliminate as much light as possible from your bedroom.
Try these things to help eliminate excess light:
- Get blackout blinds for your windows
- Don’t have electronic devices plugged in that create light (or cover up the lights with duct tape or something similar)
- Keep your phone out of the bedroom, or at least turn it on airplane mode and turn it screen facing down so your phone doesn’t light up at night
8. Avoid Blue Light and Screens Before Bed
Humans evolved from animals that lived in the oceans, and in the ocean, blue light is the primary spectrum of light (that’s why water is blue). Because of this, our brains most sensitive to the spectrum of blue light, and when our brains detect it, it’s interpreted as a sign that its daytime.
That means when you’re exposed to blue light, your body will produce hormones that keep you awake and mess up your circadian rhythm, making it much harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
That’s why you should avoid blue light at night. Here are some things that can help:
- Get blue light blocking sunglasses and wear them at night before bed
- Get an app for your computer like lux that blocks blue light at night
- Turn on “Night shift” for your phone and tablets to block blue light on your devices at night
- Avoid white LED bulbs in your bedroom and for any reading lights if you read at night. Instead, go for light bulbs with a “warmer” spectrum (red light bulbs are the best). If you don’t want to invest a few dollars in a red light bulb, at least use an incandescent light bulb instead of a regular LED.
9. Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant with a 7-hour half-life. That means 7 hours after drinking coffee, your body still has 50% of the caffeine in your bloodstream and affecting your brain.
In other words, if you drink coffee or any caffeinated beverage afternoon, you’ll still have significant levels of caffeine in your system when it’s bedtime, and that will cause you to fall asleep more slowly and have reduced quality sleep at night.
Avoid caffeine afternoon if you want to sleep better.
10. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant, and it seriously interferes with your brain’s ability to sleep normally. You may find it easy to fall asleep after a few drinks, but that sleep is nothing like normal, healthy sleep.
Alcohol seriously interferes with your body’s circadian rhythm and your ability to sleep normally. Alcohol even blocks your body from going into REM sleep, which is crucial for good health, emotional processing and regulation, and much more!
If you want to sleep better, avoid alcohol as much as possible at night, and do not drink several drinks before bed.
11. Don’t Use an Alarm Clock
If you wake up to an alarm clock every day, you’re basically torturing yourself first thing in the morning.
When your alarm clock goes off, it causes you to instantly wake up from sleep—regardless of where you are in your sleep cycle. This shock to your nervous system immediately causes your stress hormones like cortisol to spike. This is physiologically damaging by definition.
So what should you do if you have to wake up early to get to work or another important appointment?
Set your alarm for the latest time you absolutely must wake up, and then adjust your sleeping time early enough so that you’re fully rested and naturally wake up from sleep before your alarm goes off.
You’ll start your day off with a lot more feeling good and rested and a lot less stress.
If you think you’ve got what it takes to succeed in spite of the odds, check out these additional resources: