“Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain,” says sleep scientist Matthew Walker.
When an animal feels tired, it simply lies down and goes to sleep, and for good reason—lack of sleep is the root of several mental and physical malfunctions. Skip out on sleep and you could develop memory issues, mood changes, weakened immunity, difficulty concentrating, high blood pressure, risk of heart disease, and poor balance, just to name a few. You may also start to gain weight, become depressed or irritable, and greatly increase your risk for a car accident. Sleep deprivation causes a 40% shortfall in the brain’s ability to learn new information. And, if these facts aren’t frightening enough, long-term sleep deprivation (specifically less than five hours of sleep per night) reduces your lifespan by 15%.
Unlike animals, many people find it very difficult to simply lie down and go to sleep. Sometimes your heavy workload takes priority, your children keep you up, or your thoughts just won’t stop racing. Listed below are a few sleep hacks for you to try out, as well as some tips on how to feel awake after a poor night of sleep.
You’ve probably heard a lot about reducing blue light (screen light) exposure before bedtime. That is a good practice to sustain, but did you know that certain light exposure is actually crucial in order to maintain your circadian rhythms? It is important to expose yourself to natural light during the day. Our circadian rhythms prompt our bodies to stay awake when it is light and sleep when it is dark. Spending your days in dimly lit areas can really confuse your body, making it difficult to sleep when night actually falls. Spending a few hours out in the sunlight each day can significantly improve your sleep. One study shows that two hours spent in the sunlight increases sleep efficiency by 80%. If you must spend your day indoors, open your blinds. If you wake up in the middle of the night for any reason, avoid turning on the lights. This will make it far easier to go back to sleep.
Create a Routine
Our bodies love to follow rhythms. Going to bed around the same time each night and waking up around the same time each morning can really benefit your sleep. Consistent bedtimes are difficult to maintain on the weekends (or whichever days you don’t have to work), but if you suffer from insomnia, it’s worth a try. Sleep schedules are especially effective if they let your body wake up naturally. Waking up naturally allows your body to complete its final sleep cycle. Alarm clocks usually jolt you awake during the middle of a sleep cycle, making it nearly impossible for you to feel refreshed.
A sleep routine that works for someone else, however, may not work for you. Some bodies require more sleep than others. A single night of sleep is composed of four to six sleep cycles. The length of a sleep cycle varies from person to person, but one cycle is typically about 90 minutes and is made up of four stages. Certain stages of the sleep cycle are extremely difficult to wake from, which is why alarm clocks can be so detrimental. For example, if your alarm wakes you up during stage 3 of a sleep cycle, you are going to feel confused and groggy, and hitting the snooze button one too many times will be inevitable. The idea of waking up without an alarm is quite intimidating, but potentially life changing. Begin practicing waking up without an alarm on days that you aren’t required to be somewhere early in the morning, and with enough practice you may eventually feel ready to try sleeping without setting an alarm even on work nights. For instance, after several trial runs you might notice that your body consistently wakes up after seven and a half hours of sleep. You could go to bed eight and a half hours before you need to be awake in order to give yourself a 60-minute buffer. Sleeping without an alarm is a more realistic possibility than you think it is, and you’ll probably feel better waking up in the morning
For more information on sleep cycles, click here.
Optimize Your Surroundings
Evidence shows that your bedroom setup influences your ability to sleep. A cluttered bedroom makes it difficult for the mind to relax. Begin making your bed every day and invest in comfortable sheets. Pick out a candle scent you like and light it for an hour or so before bed (Just make sure to blow it out before sleeping.) In addition to being clean, your bedroom should also be free of noise. Maybe you live next to a freeway or train tracks. These environmental factors cannot be changed, but you can try sleeping with a white noise machine, an electric fan, or ear plugs. It’s also important to keep your bedroom at a cool temperature while sleeping. Because your body temperature cools down when you sleep, the optimal nighttime room temperature is 65 degrees. If your room is a cool temperature, then it will be easier for your body temperature to stay cool and remain asleep.
How to Wake Yourself Up
Caffeine is a tried-and-true method of waking yourself up after a poor night of sleep, but it’s not the only way. Try doing morning stretches and head rolls. After your stretches, hop into a cold shower. If you’re the type to shower at night, then just splash some cold water onto your face or drink a cold glass of water (you should drink a full glass of water every morning regardless, as your body loses quite a bit of moisture throughout the night). Fresh air is also a great way to rid yourself of morning brain fog. If you have time, take a brisk walk around the block before leaving for work (you might as well get some steps towards our steps program before your day even begins). Listen to upbeat music as you walk to help you get motivated for the day ahead. You don’t have to be a slave to caffeine in order to function.
What are some ways that you prepare to get a good night’s rest?