How did you sleep last night?
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Were you out like a rock? Or were you lying awake in bed, tossing and turning throughout the night?
If you’re the second one, you’re like most people.
60% of Americans say they have problems sleeping at night. And most of us say we can get by on five hours (or less) of sleep each night, but we really can’t – not if we want to perform at the top of our game.
When we consistently don’t sleep well, what happens is we get used to being tired. We say we’ll catch up on the weekend, and besides, what’s a little sleepiness in the face of a Starbucks, 31-ounce Venti size latte with a quadruple shot of espresso?
I love coffee, but it doesn’t get rid of our sleepiness, it only blocks us from feeling it. I also love the weekend, but trying to “catch up” on sleep doesn’t work that way. If you’re sleeping badly five out of seven days each and every week, those weekend sleep-ins aren’t going to help – and they might actually hurt.
You deserve to sleep well. You have friends, family, a career… you deserve to be at a 100% for what matters most in your life.
The good news is you can start sleeping better. Here are three ways you can start sleeping better this week.
1. Sleep Schedules Beat Sleeping In
Imagine you’ve made it through a stressful week. You haven’t slept well, but the weekend has finally rolled around and you can get to bed at a decent time… kidding.
It’s Friday. Maybe you go out with friends and have a late night, but it’s fun so it’s ok. You don’t have work tomorrow, so you can just sleep in and you’ll be fine.
That’s what we tell ourselves, but by not keeping a regular sleep schedule, we actually hurt the quality of our sleep.
You’ve probably heard about “circadian rhythms.” They’re what keep us – and pretty every living thing on the planet – in tune with a 24-hour cycle.
It tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. And when we mess with our schedule, we hurt our natural cycle.
If you’ve ever traveled across time zones and been jetlagged, you’ve felt what happens when you screw with your internal clock.
Scientists now call this effect “social jet lag,” and it’s been associated with health issues like heart disease, increased fatigue, and worse sleep.
Instead, keep a consistent sleep schedule as much as you can, both for going to sleep and waking up. Yes, that means not sleeping in on the weekends.
When you do this, your body knows when it needs to fall asleep and wake up, so it’ll work with you instead of against you.
If you’re a shift worker like a nurse, I’m sorry. They’re now doing more research on what’s being called “Shift work sleep disorder.” The other tips here will be more helpful for you.
2. Beds Are For Sleep… And Sex
What do you do in bed?
I know we’re getting a little personal here. Seriously though, what do you do in bed?
Are you catching up on work emails? Binging on Netflix?
Or do you only save it for sleeping and sex?
Our minds associate locations with actions and they help prepare us based on what we’re going to do.
When you crawl into bed, what is your body preparing you to do?
Sleep? Or watch the next episode of Game of Thrones?
If you’re used to sleeping with the tv on or answering emails (both are also bad also for the light it creates, as it inhibits sleep-inducing melatonin from being produced in you), it might take a few nights for you to get used to the change.
Your body will “learn” that when in bed, it’s supposed to be sleeping. Once that happens, it’ll become much easier to fall asleep each night.
3. Stop “Trying” To Fall Asleep
Everyone has a bad night of sleep now and then.
When you do, you might be in bed, awake, knowing you need to fall asleep because you have a big day tomorrow. Minutes pass, then hours, and then maybe in those early hours, you finally fall asleep.
Now imagine this happens a few nights in a row. You could start dreading even getting ready for bed, knowing that another sleepless night is waiting for you.
That’s a surefire way to develop insomnia.
Part of the problem is that you’re trying to force yourself to sleep. It’s a paradox, because when you do this the farther and farther away sleep actually gets.
Think of other feelings you might have, whether it’s laughing at a great joke or getting frustrated or angry at other drivers in traffic.
Do you force yourself to feel humor? Do you try to be angry?
Nope. Those feelings just happen. They’re unconscious… and so is sleep.
The trick can then be is, when you’re laying in bed awake, to just let what happens, happen.
There’s no set time for us to fall asleep in, so if you don’t fall asleep in 10, 15, or 20 minutes, that’s ok.
Instead, think about your dream vacation. Think about what you would do if you won a million dollars. Count backward starting at 500 or do a progressive muscle relaxation.
Even resting in bed with your eyes closed can be rejuvenating. By not putting expectations on when and how you’re going to fall asleep, you can get past the anxiousness that comes with those sleepless nights.
Everyone Sleeps Differently
There’s a lot of advice out there. Some articles say you should only sleep in 90-minute cycles, or that you should be falling asleep in under 20 minutes.
That’s a lot of shoulds. Instead, it’s important to find what works best for you. If you leave the TV on in bed and you’re happy with your sleep and don’t need coffee and energy drinks to get through the day, that’s fine.
But if you’re tired of being tired, look at yourself as a scientist experimenting with your sleep. Try different things and see what works and what doesn’t.
Getting consistent nights of good sleep might seem impossible, but with a little work, those sweet dreams can be yours.