Updated: May 12, 2022
Sleep is such an important thing that gets neglected all of the time. Think back on the past week. How many hours did you sleep each night? Adults need approximately 7 to 9 hours. How did you do? According to the Sleep Foundation, about 33% of you got less sleep than you needed. They define this as “sleep deprivation”, and it has many negative consequences, including reduced attention span, slowed thinking, deficits in decision-making, and irritability. Can you imagine trying to function in the work or school setting like this? Yet many of you do it on a regular basis. If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be sleep-deprived. I’m here to tell you that sleep is important, and to let you in on some tips that may help you take back your sleep (Courtesy of the Sleep Foundation and licensed therapist Emma McAdam).
First, you’ll want to try to fall asleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Setting a consistent schedule can help train your body to know when it’s time to fall asleep. This includes weekends too. This tip is hard to follow, but I’ve found it easier as I’ve transitioned out of my college phase and into my boring adult phase.
Next, be careful with napping. If you’re going to nap, the best time to do so is right after lunch. Only sleep for about 20 minutes, don’t succumb to the two- or three-hour “dead to the world” naps that most of us are likely accustomed to. If you’re like me, you may not even be able to fall asleep before the 20 minutes is up, which is why I skip the naps altogether.
Caffeine and alcohol are also important factors to consider. You’ll want to avoid caffeine at least 4 to 6 hours before bed. One cup of coffee or tea has the potential to affect sleep for up to 48 hours. If you think caffeine may be the culprit of your poor sleep, try cutting it out for a week and see what happens. Many people think alcohol promotes better sleep and will even use it to help themselves fall asleep. While it may help with this aspect, it actually decreases the overall quality of sleep you get, so you’ll likely wake up feeling unrested.
Lastly, have a consistent routine that you follow every night before you go to bed. This is another way you can train your body to know that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Spend about 30 minutes or an hour on this routine, doing things such as taking a bath, brushing your teeth, reading, praying, etc. This routine should not consist of any stimulating activities. For instance, you should try to stay off of your phone by this point in the night. Not only is the content likely stimulating, but your body associates the light emitted with daytime. You’ll want to dim the lights in your house for the same reason. If you must be on your phone during this time, you can change your display to a nighttime setting that emits a softer, yellower light.
What happens if you’re doing all of this during the day and you still have trouble falling asleep? There are some techniques that may help. If you’re expecting to have difficulties, try some relaxation exercises right when you lay down for bed, like mindfulness or progressive muscle relaxation. Personally, I like to read a boring book, typically a textbook. If you’ve been trying to fall asleep for about 20 minutes with no success, get out of bed. The less time you spend in bed awake, the better. Get up and do something that’s not too stimulating, like reading, and then go back to bed. If you have consistent troubles falling asleep using all of these tips, keep a sleep journal to track these problems, and make an appointment with your doctor.
Sleep plays a crucial role in your ability to function. It’s so much harder to achieve your goals in life when you’re exhausted. If you’re one of the 33% of the population that is sleep deprived, I encourage you to try these tips and see if it makes a difference. You just might find the best sleep of your life!