Updated: May 12, 2020
When was the last time you got a solid eight hours of sleep?
How about a solid eight hours of sleep for a week straight?
When was the last time you got a solid 7-8 hours of sleep straight for a whole month?
If you’re like most of the nation, it’s probably been a long time. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 35% of adults don’t get enough sleep. What does that equate to here in the U.S.? That’s over 115 million adults not getting enough sleep which they gauge as anything less than 7 hours. Technically for optimal health, cognitive coherence, hormone processing and overall biological functioning, we need a minimum of 7-8 hours every night. Losing sleep for even one round of shut-eye can dramatically decrease your alertness and response time, among other more long-term health consequences.
Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution weighs in on this subject in an extensive and in-depth way. One of my favorite of the stigmas she brings to light is the fact that we think sleep is for the weak, the lazy or the unmotivated. Truly, this perspective on sleep has cost us more than just our sense of ego and has added to our nation’s state of declining health and obesity.
Let’s address some of the points I find imperative, so you can best understand why it’s important to get the shuteye you need and how it can improve your life drastically. We’ll wrap up with a few suggestions on how to improve your sleep cycles starting tonight!
Interesting Sleep Fact: Over 100 thousand deaths can be attributed to medical errors due to sleep deprivation.
Common Misconception: “5-6 hours of sleep is plenty sufficient for me!”
When I’m speaking with clients, one of the first questions I ask is “Are you sleeping enough?” The second question to their response of “yes” is “what do you consider enough to be?” Almost always, adults I work with have an average nightly sleep in the 5-6 hour range. It’s incredibly common for parents to be suffering from even less sleep, depending on their work life and current responsibilities as well as the age of their children.
The first place to start: understand that 7-8 hours minimum is critical to optimal health.
Second place to move on to: understand that accomplishing this goal will enable you to be better at everything else in life.
The results of NOT GETTING enough sleep:
High blood pressure
Drowsiness at work
Nodding off while driving
Poor food choices
Decreased mental acuity
Weakened immune system
A whole host of mood disorders
We can get used to the feeling of not having enough sleep, get by with some mental fogginess, and push through the half-lidded gazes at work… but what is that really doing to us in the long-term after nights of poor or little sleep?
Interesting Sleep Fact: 75% of people suffering from depression do not get enough sleep.
Common Misconception: “Losing sleep doesn’t affect my mental clarity, focus or my energy levels - I actually feel better with less sleep.”
This may seem to be the case to your sleep-deprived brain and perspective, but the reality is your productivity and ability to focus is greatly suffering from a lack of sleep. According to this article on tuck.com our ability to be creative, focused and to problem-solve drastically decreases with insufficient sleep. We suffer from lack of motivation and poor time-management as missing memory consolidation in REM (rapid eye movement or deep sleep) affects our brain function throughout the day.
Our ability to produce hormones properly is enhanced by our sleep cycles and the body’s slip into “rest and digest mode.” Your parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated by restful sleep, enabling the body to go to work on repairing tissue, digesting food properly and slowing the heart rate down. Sleep deprivation can lead to an improper chemical balance in the brain and body, decreasing mood or promoting depression.
Interesting Sleep Fact: If people added an additional hour of sleep per night we could regain over $200 billion to the U.S. economy - $400 billion is lost every year from lack of sleep from productivity, illness, injuries, or accidents.
Common Misconception: “I don’t have the time to sleep!”
Did you ever consider that your work, your relationships, your time management and your food choices would all be enhanced with your getting enough sleep? Now, consider if you did get enough sleep and your attention at work increased. If you were getting enough sleep, your communication with family or friends would be a lot smoother. Getting the full amount of sleep necessary means you’re not crashing in the afternoon, and then reaching for coffee or a sugary pick-me-up. Your work, whether that be in entrepreneurship or in career will begin to excel when you’re partnering sleep with ample movement and nutritional food choices. It’s always a balance; there are always other factors at play. But starting with your length and quality of sleep is one of the best ways to take steps towards creating the healthiest version of yourself you can imagine.
How do you get more sleep?!
Oftentimes we can experience sleep challenges, which are incredibly common today with insomnia, snoring and sleep apnea. Not to mention all of the responsibilities: child-rearing, working , and demanding schedules we have booked out for ourselves today. The most common direction people want to turn to are over-the-counter or prescribed sleep medications (over 9 million Americans are taking prescription sleep meds).
This should be an absolute last resort and a temporary relief while more long-term solutions are sought
The effect of sleep meds can result in grogginess during the day, dependence, or sleep-
walking that can present dangerous situations such as getting behind the wheel.
Tools I suggest to help remedy your relationship with sleep:
Turn lights down as the sun goes down: Try to stay in tune with nature and the natural cycles of our sunrise to sunset times. The artificial light created by bulbs and screens will inhibit or disrupt your natural circadian rhythms, thus throwing off when you should be sleeping or awake. Keep the lights on a dimmer, light candles or choose yellow lights instead.
Ditch all screens 2 hours before bed: Blue light inhibits the body’s natural release of melatonin - the sleep hormone. Without the body’s natural production of the sleep hormone, you’ll want to stay up later even though your body is tired and wanting to fall asleep. It’s a trick of thought process and best to avoid screen use - for blue light and because at the evening hour you have nothing left to do online that can’t wait till tomorrow when your mind is fresh and ready for work.
Avoid caffeine as the day progresses: Everyone is different in their tolerance of caffeine. I know I’m a particular lightweight, so I can’t even do coffee or black tea without sweating, anxiousness and staying up past midnight cleaning the fridge. Even though you regularly consume caffeine or even have coffee at night and say you sleep just fine, caffeine may be keeping you from getting the deep restorative sleep your body needs. One study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by 1 hour. Cut the caffeine from coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, or energy drinks early in the day to avoid these effects.
Have an evening routine: Wrapping up your day with a ritual or process that signals your mind and body that it’s time for sleep is an important part of the day. Choose activities that you enjoy to end your day on - whether that’s a specific way you get ready for bed, a particular journaling prompt, a certain physical book you’re reading or a nighttime decaf tea you make. After getting ready for bed with the lights turned down low you’ll be habitually lulled into a restful state.
Take a nap: One of our favorite pastimes can make a comeback! Napping is not just for kids. Even just a 30-minute nap in the afternoon can transform any hormone imbalance from the night before for the better.
If you’re still having trouble falling asleep:
Use relaxing essential oils, most commonly lavender, as a tool in your evening routine - applying it to your wrists, pillow or eye mask will give you a calming scent.
Yoga Nidra is one of my favorite go-tos when it comes to having a tough time falling asleep. It’s a meditation technique that helps you relax each part of your body as they’re spoken to you - finding one online is easy, but make sure the screen time is negligible or lower brightness as you get it to play.
Lastly, if all else fails, having an orgasm is a sure-fire way to relax the body and get you primed for sleepy time. So, whether it’s you and your “significant” or just you and your bad self - finding that sexual pleasure will help lead you into dreamland without any prescription drugs.