We’ve all been there – you’re in the thick of a project or maybe you’ve just spent hours toiling away on Reddit or Facebook and you look up at the clock only to see that it’s already 2 am, or even later. Damn it. Another night where you’re going to get to sleep much later than you ever wanted to. You feel tired but once you hit the bed all you can do is keep calculating how much sleep you’ll get (or won’t get) if you were to fall asleep this very instant, knowing very well that you’re actually going to even less sleep than that. You wake up the next morning feeling groggy and sluggish, ruing “past you” who decided it was good idea to stay up that late. Vowing to never again let this happen, some hours later you look up at the clock and see that it’s once again 2:30 in the morning and you haven’t even thought about sleeping yet. Rinse, repeat.
If you’re reading this then you’ve surely gone through countless articles on how to improve your sleep, get more of it, fall asleep faster and the like. While I’m not going to rehash every tip you could ever come across I will go over a few that I’ve found actually work.
The biggest challenge in changing the way you sleep is that your sleep habits are just that, a habit. The first thing you have to ask yourself is whether you have actually tried any of the tips that you have read, let alone performed them over a period of time where you could observe whether there was any effect or not. In a world where instant gratification is desired above all else it is easy to abandon a new practice after a few tries and deem it ineffective, but the fact of the matter is that good habits are just as difficult to develop as it is to break the bad ones. While many believe the “21 day rule” of habit formation, it seems that making new habits might not be that cut and dry. If you want to change your habits, sleep or otherwise, you have to commit to the process to change.
- You will hear this everywhere, but put those electronics away! Seriously, don’t use your computer, cell phone, tablet, or really anything with a screen an hour to two before you plan to go to bed. The reason is that when the sun goes down our bodies start to release the hormones that make us sleepy. All of the artificial lights and blaring screens we incessantly stare at disrupt this process, therein making it more difficult for us to sleep. If you want to be doubly proactive in trying to sleep then instead of spending time on your computer or cell phone before bedtime take a hot shower and cool down your bedroom. The shower will be relaxing and a warmer skin temperature combined with a cooler room makes it easier to fall asleep.
- Read a book before bed, especially one that is boring or that you’re not that in to. Have a couple books that you designate as “bed books” since they’re not gripping enough to keep you awake and before long you will find that you are dosing off like Waldorf and Statler during the Muppets Show. Old textbooks you might have left over from school can also do the trick. If you find that reading doesn’t work or that you have too much going on in your head before sleep then spend a few minutes earlier in the day writing out everything you have going on up there. Playing with your thoughts on pen and paper can help quell many of those obtrusive thoughts we get before bed.
- Have you ever had a night where you slept a good number of hours but wake up and feel like you got practically no sleep at all? One of the reasons this could be the case is that you woke up in the middle of your sleep cycle. On average, a full REM cycle lasts about 90 to 110 minutes. What this means is that you should break your sleep down into 90 minute segments. For example, if you have to wake up at 6 am it would be best to fall asleep at 10:30 pm or midnight, but 1:30 or 3 in the morning are better than most other times. Of course this depends on how long your individual REM cycles last but if you can schedule your sleep so your wake-up time coincides with the end of a REM cycle you may find that you feel much better.
The consequences of poor sleeping habits and sleep deprivation can be as serious as they are numerous, including fatigue, reduced immunity and weight gain, as well as an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. With so much of your health and productivity dependent on how well you sleep at night isn’t it time that you did something to finally get a better night’s rest? Hopefully this helps you develop those better sleeping habits that can work wonders in increasing your productivity, alertness, and general happiness.