August Well-being Tip & Challenge: Better Sleep
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
I have to admit, I was hesitant to talk about such an unsexy and seemingly "boring" topic like sleep. But with many front-line workers doing overtime, many people out of work, or struggling in their business, and the extra stress that we are all feeling, I'm willing to take one for the team and talk about the need for proper sleep.
You may be shocked to know just how important a good night's rest is, and how much it can improve nearly all aspects of your life. Specially if you're super busy right now or experiencing a lot of stress.
If you're feeling tired, drowsy, having difficulty focusing or remembering things, making more mistakes, feeling moody and easily triggered, or getting sick more often, you may not be getting enough, or good quality sleep.
In the past decade, researchers have began to better understand the role of sleep. And I, myself, have begun to prioritize it and can attest to just how much getting better night's sleep has made a difference in my overall mood and productivity.
Why you should prioritize getting a good night's rest
Scientists have found that each night you can literally wash your brain of waste and damage with a good night's sleep (i.e., Iliff et al., 2012; Xie et al., 2013). Waste and damage build up is harmful to the brain and contributes to a host of problems, from brain fog and difficulty concentrating, to cognitive deterioration and disorders like Alzheimer's disease.
Poor sleep may also contribute to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression (Harvard Medical School, 2009), and health conditions like cancer and heart disease (Lili et al., 2011; Cappauccio et al., 2011).
Personally, it's helped me to improve my overall mood, handle my emotions more constructively, problem-solve better, get sick less often, and recover from my workouts faster. Since I've noticed the difference, I don't sacrifice my sleep so easily anymore.
If you want to learn more about how sleep impacts your body, mind, and your performance, I recommend reading Dr. Greg Well's book The Ripple Effect.
I've also provided a more comprehensive list below of some of the things you should know about the role of sleep.
Sleep is important for:
the proper functioning of the immune system (to fight off disease and illness)
repairing damaged cells in the body (healthy body)
optimal brain structure (healthy brain)
restoring energy (to feel recharged)
emotion regulation (to have better mood and control)
recovery of the nervous system (important for mental and physical health)
better memory, learning and problem solving (to increase performance and productivity)
subconscious creative problem solving (less effort for creativity)
losing excess weight (to prevent obesity, diabetes, and help with reaching personal weight goals)
These are just some reasons why a good night's rest is a non-negotiable.
What does a "good night's sleep" mean?
A good night's sleep refers to the quantity and quality of your sleep. Research suggests that getting less than 6 hours/night is harmful to our health (i.e., Cappuccio, et al., 2011; Lili et al., 2011). A general rule of thumb is to sleep around 8 hours a night. However, this can vary a bit from person to person.
The quality of sleep is also important. This means consistently sleeping throughout the night and falling into deep sleep. If you're sleeping about 8 hours a day and are still not feeling well-rested, you may want to consider improving the quality of your sleep.
7 ways to a good night's sleep
Here are 7 ways you can improve your sleep:
Prioritize your sleep. If it's not priority, it's not likely to improve. Pin-point the main challenges that are keeping you from getting a good-night's rest. Write them down. Then, devise a plan to address them (ex: replace watching the news late at night with a book that helps you fall asleep).
Keep your bedroom dark and free of distractions. The absence of light allows the proper biological mechanisms to kick in and regulate your sleep cycle. This will help you get better quality sleep.
Avoid screen time or the news (ex: phone/tv) at least 2 hours before you go to bed. Research suggests that a hormone (called melatonin) that helps regulate sleep is suppressed with the blue light that screens emit. People using screens, specially before bedtime, have been shown to have difficulty falling sleep and having lower quality sleep (Christensen et al. 2016). Watching the news can also have your mind racing, which doesn't help when you want to relax before bedtime.
Try relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are some great ways to help you with overthinking and to relax as you fall asleep. You can use apps for guided meditations (ex: the Calm app), or free sleep meditations and guided muscle relaxation videos available on youtube. Here's a free one that you may find useful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4F55PPwC-U.
Gradually increase your sleep if you're not getting enough. You can try adding 5 minutes each day until you are getting around 8 hours of sleep. Even 5 minutes a day adds up quickly, so don't rush this. This may be an easier transition than, for example, adding 2 full hours all at once.
Incorporate regular exercise to your day. Exercising can help you fall asleep faster, more consistently throughout the night, and spend more time in deep sleep.
Get professional help. Sleep is something that impacts nearly everything you do, even if you're not currently feeling the full impact. If you're having trouble with sleep, and need some extra support, getting the help of a professional is worth considering.
This Month's "Better Sleep, Better me" Challenge:
It's time for action! I invite you to take on this month's "better sleep, better me" challenge.
Challenge yourself to consciously prioritize and take the necessary steps to improve your sleep from now until September 15th.
Let me know you're participating in the challenge by leaving a comment below. Include your sleep-related goals (what you're hoping to improve with better sleep), and one step you will be taking to make this happen.
You can also send me an email with any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I am rooting for you and here to support you through the process!
"see you" in the comments! :) With love, Leyla
Leyla Bagheri MA. Psychology
Well-Being & Performance Coach