- The beginning
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die.
And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
There is plenty of statistics suggesting that people don’t sleep enough, but it’s not the statistics that matter the most here. The most important thing is waking up and feeling that you slept well, that you are ready to jump out of bed and make the most of a new day. If that is not the case, chances are that you have been sleeping poorly for so long that you consider not resting enough on weekdays and compensating for it on the weekends to be a normal sleep schedule. Matthew Walker, the author of the book Why are sleep? suggests asking yourself a couple of questions to understand if you are getting enough sleep: 1) After you wake up in the morning, could you take a nap at 10:00 or 11:00? 2) Can you function normally until midday without caffeine (coffee, tea with caffeine)? If you answered “yes” to the first question, you either lack sleep or your quality of sleep is poor. If you answered “no” to the second one, you are self-treating a chronic lack of sleep. A few other facts showing that you’re not sleeping enough: 1) without an alarm clock, you couldn’t wake up on time; 2) you need to re-read the same sentence, again and again, to understand what it means.
Sleep is not something to do when there is nothing to do. Rather, it is meant to prepare you for activities that await after waking. Sleep deprivation is life-threatening. For example, driving without having slept for 18 hours is comparable to driving with 0.05% blood-alcohol concentration, without having slept for 24 hours – to 1.00% (light inebriation for which the fines in Lithuania amount to 300-450 €). It is useful to take care of your sleep for the following benefits mentioned by the Healthline.com:
- Maintaining or losing weight.
- Improving concentration and productivity.
- Improving athletic performance.
- Strengthening heart health.
- Positively affecting sugar metabolism and lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Poor sleep is associated with depression.
- Sufficient sleep supports a healthy immune system.
- Poor sleep is associated with increased inflammation.
- Sleep quality influences emotions and relationships.
How to find more time?
Make sleep a priority. If that proves difficult, add sleep to your agenda.
Where do I start?
What should we do to sleep better?
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, on weekdays and weekends alike. Not sleeping enough on weekdays and oversleeping on weekends may amount to an average of 8 hours a day statistically, but this is an unhealthy sleep pattern.
- Exercise every day, preferably in the morning or lightly in the evening. It has been shown that regular exercise, including stretching and aerobic exercises, improves sleep.
- Spend time outdoors or in bright, natural light. If possible, start your morning by spending some time in daylight or artificial bright light to signal to the body that a new day has begun.
- Check your vitamin D level (which we should ideally get when we spend time in the sun, but we usually don’t get enough of it), and restore and maintain it with supplements.
- In the bedroom, keep a comfortable temperature for sleeping (the ideal temperature for sleep is 17-19°C).
- The bedroom must be quiet and dark to facilitate sleep. “I sleep perfectly without curtains” is just as much of a lie as “5 hours are perfectly enough sleep for me”, which can only be true unless you go to bed and wake up with the sun and live without artificial light.
- Use your bed only for sleep (and sex). Working in bed creates associations that are not related to calmness and rest.
- Create a sleep routine (e.g., before bed, take a warm bath or shower, try aromatherapy, read, listen to music, do yoga). For example, take a small cup of calming tea at 21:00, turn off the phone, computer, and TV, read a book for 30 minutes, meditate for 30 minutes at 22:30, do some stretching or breathing exercises, and turn the lights off at 23:00.
- Keep your legs and arms warm.
- Before starting your sleep routine, write down the plan for the next day (put it on paper so it wouldn’t run circles in your mind).
- Sleep alone, without your significant other, children, or pets. The tradition of sleeping together in one bed came from poverty, when during industrialisation people moved to small apartments in the big cities, rather than love. The bed can also be used for love, but if you really love your significant other (and yourself) – let them sleep without interruptions, such as pulling on bedsheets, snoring, going to the bathroom at night, etc. If this sounds too radical, try buying a mattress that isolates the movements of the person sleeping nearby, sleeping on two different mattresses, or two beds pushed together.
What should we stay away from to sleep well?
- Engaging in active physical activity before bedtime.
- Sleeping during the day (15-30 minutes naps until 15:00 are great, but later or longer naps can cause trouble sleeping at night).
- Engaging in energizing, stimulating (mentally, physically) activity just before bedtime.
- Using caffeine (coffee, tea, etc.) or nicotine in the evening. Caffeine retains 50% of its effects for about 5 hours after consumption (from 1.5 to 9 hours, depending on the person).
- Looking at the clock at night or counting minutes.
- Reading or watching TV in bed, especially before bedtime.
- Lying in bed and trying to fall asleep for more than 20-30 minutes after waking up. Forceful attempts to fall asleep can work the opposite way. Try reading a book until you feel like sleeping again.
- Drinking alcohol, especially, to fall asleep. Alcohol can help you fall asleep or pass out, but this sleep will likely be restless, and you won’t feel rested in the morning.
- Going to bed hungry or having overeaten.
- Trying to change the routine for the next day after a night of poor sleep.
- After a night of poor sleep, using more caffeine the next day.
Why We Sleep (Matthew Walker, 2020). Neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker provides a revolutionary exploration of sleep, examining how it affects every aspect of our physical and mental well-being. Charting the most cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and marshalling his decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels, regulate hormones, prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, slow the effects of aging, and increase longevity. He also provides actionable steps towards getting a better night’s sleep every night.