5 Simple Hacks to help you get to sleep so you never have to be tired again.
Do you spend many troublesome nights trying to fall asleep, or waking up wired in the middle of the night? Are your nights spent tossing and turning for what seems like hours? The next day you’re grumpy and exhausted. All you want to do is eat, sweet and salty and as junky as possible. You can’t focus, and you’re tired right down to your bones. Sound familiar?
As you age, your brains lose neural connections. Your brains receive the signal that it’s time to sleep, but the connection is dim. It’s like a weak radio antenna. The signal is there, but the antenna can’t pick it up. This process starts happening around age 50 and keeps on going.
It doesn’t help that you’re part of an overworked and overly plugged-in society. Because of this, you often feel like you are all walking around like The Walking Dead in an “unslept state.” The troubling thing? Most people don’t even realize they’re sleep deprived. Sleep deficiency is associated with lack of concentration, poor memory, poor judgment, a weaker immune system, and weight gain. And that’s just to name a few.
According to a recent article in National Geographic, sleep might be the most crucial element for our overall health and wellbeing: “Anyone who regularly sleeps less than six hours a night has an elevated risk of depression, psychosis, and stroke. Lack of sleep is also directly tied to obesity: Without enough sleep, the stomach and other organs overproduce ghrelin, the hunger hormone, causing us to eat more than we need. Proving a cause-and-effect relationship in these cases is challenging, because you can’t subject humans to the necessary experiments. But it’s clear that sleeplessness undermines the whole body.”
Not so long ago, I caught one of my favorite podcasts, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, when she interviewed Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience science at UC Berkeley who now works over at Google as a sleep scientist. Turns out, our habits directly influence how well we sleep. Walker talks about how to retrain your brain to associate your bed with sleep and rest.
Here are five actions to retrain your brain to feel sleepy when it’s supposed to, to associate bed with rest, and to make the most of our 7 – 9 hours of shut-eye. Yep, that’s right, 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night people!
•Set a Bedtime for your Screens and Devices. Two hours before bedtime, just turn ‘em off. No excuses. If that sounds impossible to you, start with thirty minutes before bed so you can realize that you won’t really miss anything online.
Then gradually increase to an hour, and so on. By turning OFF your devices, you won’t slip into bed with your brain still amped up and all the signals telling your brain to stay wired and alert. Instead, you’ll be naturally sleepy.
Screens emit a blue light that tells your brain it’s daytime. So even if it’s midnight, your brain still thinks it’s time to work and play.
Setting a bedtime for your screens and devices also means that you should keep them out of your bedroom. There is no place for your cell phone, ipad, or television in your bedroom. It’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep when you have blinking lights of your devices, buzzing, and whirring of notifications. Time to keep your phone somewhere else. And if you use your phone as an alarm clock, then stop! Get an old-fashioned alarm clock that doesn’t let you access Facebook!
•Dim the Lights an Hour or Two Before Bed. When the world started lighting up our homes and cities with electricity, we became significantly more sleepless (thanks, Edison). Why? All those bright lights trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime. It’s hard to get sleepy at night when it’s just as bright in your home as it was in the office. Here’s a trick that really works: start turning off the lights a couple of hours before bedtime. Dim other lights. Make sure your soft lighting is eye-level or lower. Lighting does so much to calm us and to set the mood. Two hours before bed, use smart lighting to make the mood all about sleep.
•Break up with your Bartender and Barista. Have your caffeine early in the day and cut it off by the afternoon. Yep, you heard me, your last cup of coffee should be no later than about 2 PM. If caffeine is still swirling around your brain, you’re not going to get high-quality sleep. Your REM is shot to hell.
Speaking of which, go easy on those cocktails. Alcohol is really good at blocking your REM sleep. Give your body two-hours of being alcohol-free before putting your head on that pillow for a night of restorative sleep.
•Learn to Meditate. There is nothing worse than not being able to sleep. If you find yourself in a habit of “sleep procrastination”, it might be time to change up your bedtime routine to include meditation. Meditation quiets the mind and dampens our “fight or flight” center of the nervous system, which is one of the key culprits of insomnia. If you don’t know how to meditate, now is a good time to learn! Find a meditation class in your community, or learn through a cell phone app or online course.
•Put Down the Pills. Sleep aids are all the rage these days. Since all of us stay wired and lit-up right until you have to go to bed, you end up believing that there’s something wrong with you physically, and that you need a broad set of chemicals to lull us to sleep. But news flash: sedation is not sleep! Going to bed sedated does not give you the natural restorative benefits that real sleep provides. Over-the-counter aids like melatonin help regulate the timing of sleep, but it doesn’t actually help you sleep. Sleep scientists suggest only using melatonin to help with jet-lag and time-zone-related sleep timing issues. But using sleep aid pills on a nightly basis are not the answer.
High-quality sleep is one of the foundations of cognitive health. You’ll feel an instant difference in your mood, ability to focus, energy levels, ability to regulate appetite, and even in the health of your skin. The phrase “I can sleep when I’m dead” is a harmful adage. Instead, let’s sleep for a long, healthy, vital life.