I need your help! Disclaimer: This is a post about getting better sleep. If you sleep well, it’s cool if you don’t want to read it (because why would you if you sleep) but I do need your help. So, if you’re a friend, acquaintance, complete stranger or someone who barely tolerates me, but you have things that help you sleep, can you add them to the comments section. I would greatly appreciate it!
I don’t sleep much. I talk about this often. There are stretches of time (I mean weeks to months…years) when I only get two or three hours of sleep a night. I work on little but sheer motivation and coffee. On a “good” night, I’ll get five hours of sleep but still wake up frequently. Some people ask me how I do it, but I’m just used to it. And sometimes my greatest ideas come to me at night. I feel like a super-genius! But when I get up, I forget 70% of what I thought was so amazing.
- Are you having trouble sleeping or finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning?
- Do you have trouble concentrating when you’re doing things?
- Do you fall asleep while reading or watching TV?
- Are you forgetful, irritable or jumpy?
If you said yes to any of these, congratulations, you’re probably just like me! Sorry, I started writing before I had coffee, so my joke is probably not appropriate here. But if you are, you could be experiencing signs of sleep deprivation (lack of sleep).
Many studies show the importance of sleep to our overall health. Not sleeping enough impacts your mood, concentration, slows down your metabolism and can ruin your skin. The amount of sleep that’s enough varies depending on your age and the source of information. According to Canadian and U.S. guidelines, adults should get approximately eight hours sleep, while teens need around nine to 10 hours. However, I’ve also read that some adults can function well on as little as six hours sleep and some need as much as nine hours to feel their best.
The causes of sleep deprivation are as varied as its symptoms.
- stress-related insomnia,
- medical disorders such as sleep apnea (you stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep), lung functioning and thyroid diseases, narcolepsy (uncontrollable attacks of drowsiness or sleep),
- hormonal changes for women (e.g. getting your period, pregnancy or menopause),
- having children that have needs at night,
- a change in your regular sleep routine, such as late-night studying for exams or a change in work shifts, and
- too much stimulation right before you go to bed, including phones, tablets, computers and television (including writing blogs late at night!).
Whether you suffer from a sleep condition, or if you struggle with bouts of sleep deprivation when your stress is high, you can follow some steps that can help improve your sleep. You may have to change your routine to get some of these done.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Exercise daily, it has beneficial effects on sleep, but try not to do strenuous exercise late at night.
- Avoid or reduce your caffeine intake, especially later in the day.
- Avoid drinking alcohol late at night or before you go to bed.
- Eat a balanced diet, but avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
- Relax before bed, for example, take a warm bath, meditate or do some very light yoga.
- Remove distractions in the bedroom such as loud music, bright lights, your phone, a TV, tablet or computer (including writing blogs and social media).
- Don’t try to go to sleep if you’re not tired. If you’re tossing and turning, get out of bed and do something else until you’re tired.
To nap or not to nap?
Napping has been a subject of debate for years. Is it good for you, or isn’t it? Some studies have shown that napping can be beneficial for some people and certain circumstances. For example, people that work in shifts may benefit from taking naps because they’re unable to maintain a regular sleep schedule. On the other hand, napping is most likely not a good idea for people that have insomnia.
I’m a napper. I always have been. In high school and university I would take power naps right after school and then start doing my homework. It kept me more alert, but I couldn’t sleep for more than 30 minutes or I was groggy and useless. Speaking of being groggy and useless, I’ve always read that pets are like you. My cat, when he was alive, used to wake up the same way. I think we even had the same “what are you saying?” look on our faces until at least an hour had passed.
I haven’t been able to nap lately. Maybe this is part of my problem! How amazing it would be to have some time right now to put my head on a lush pillow and wrap myself in my Montreal Canadians blanket, just for 20 minutes.
One Mayo Clinic article, Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults, offers some great tips on appropriate napping habits.
Like many health-related issues, healthy lifestyle habits result in better sleep. If you find that your lack of sleep makes it difficult or impossible to function during waking hours, or if your sleep problems continue for more than three or four weeks, see your doctor.
Do you have any tricks for sleeping better? I’m willing to try almost anything, even if it reduces some of my super-genius breakthroughs that never materialize come morning!
Some additional resources
New study finds sleep deprivation boosts intake of fat, from psychcentral.com
Sleep deprivation effects on memory, from webmd.com
New study shows sleep deprivation can increase productivity at work, shape.com