You hear it over and over again like a broken record: get good sleep on a daily basis, or you’ll suffer the consequences.
Genetically, there are the lucky few who can get away with a lack of sleep and still function at a high level. Let’s face it though — that isn’t you.
Getting great (or at least good) sleep requires a proactive approach and naturally, we’re not exactly the best at this whole strategized approach to sleeping well.
Waking up tired isn’t just about a crappy feeling; it affects your health, your mood and your cognitive function. It’s safe to say we aren’t at our peak performance under the influence of lack of sleep. As much as we love coffee or any source of caffeine, the solution lies in your ability to change your patterns.
The good news is that it’s completely within your control. I’ll show you several strategies you can implement to gain the upper hand in your quest to obtain a proper night’s sleep.
Signs you’re sleep deprived
The alarm yells and you hit the snooze button, hoping for a small window of reprieve. It works until you’re jolted awake by the consistent efficiency of the alarm clock again. So much for hoping it suddenly breaks so you can get an excuse to sleep in.
You begrudgingly get up after the third snooze cycle, haphazardly making your way into the kitchen to start brewing that cup of coffee you so desperately need. All the while you’re swearing at yourself, decrying that this is in fact the last time you’re going to go to bed late this late and wake up.
With the liquid injection of caffeine taking effect, it’s smooth sailing in the morning but before you know it, lunch is around the corner and you’re downing some carb-heavy meal with your colleagues. With a belly full, you settle back in to focus and like clockwork, your eyes shut and your head nods as you fight a losing battle with the nap gods.
You somehow weather this storm, wondering why companies don’t allow siestas that you always hear so many positive things about from your Spanish friends.
It’s now time to head home and after fighting some traffic that routinely rears its ugly head, you’re back at your place. You’re exhausted mentally and physically. Besides playing with the kids and talking with your significant other, you’ve got just enough energy to eat dinner. But of course you conveniently forgot to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home.
Does this sound like you?
If you paid attention to the hypothetical and quite common situation above, you’ll notice a number of areas that sleep affects: your career, personal life, physical state, and mental state.
Dark eye circles, wrinkles, brain fog, a lack of focus and forgetting things are some examples of far-reaching effects low sleep has in almost every area of your life.
How lack of sleep affects your brain performance
In today’s fast-paced and overly-stimulating society, it’s a full time job in itself trying to stay on track and keep your focus on the task at hand. We’re the masters of multi-tasking and that’s not always a good thing.
When you’re tired, your cognitive function decreases as a result of neurons (the basic building block cells of the brain) having trouble communicating properly. This leads to temporary mental lapses that affect both memory and your personal visual perception.
In other words, you become more forgetful. You get distracted more easily and lose focus. You can’t think straight, better known as brain fog.
How long does it take for all this to happen? Just one bad night of sleep.
How lack of sleep affects your health
While battling the brain, you’re also at severe risk of affecting your overall health if you can’t manage enough sleep.
Here are some of the effects you could experience:
- Heart disease – You have a 48% increased chance of heart disease, including an elevated risk of a heart attack.
- High blood pressure -Your blood pressure could skyrocket, induced by both stress and low sleep.
- Stroke – With your brain constantly fatigued and not able to properly repair itself overnight, your chances of stroke increase.
- Diabetes – You’re at nearly three times the risk for Type II diabetes.
- Lower sex drive – Your partner probably won’t be a fan of this and neither will you. Your sex drive plummets when you’re groggy and for good reason: you just don’t have the energy to accomplish simple tasks, let alone get frisky.
- Higher chance of depression – Your energy levels go down and in turn your outlook on life can take a hit. In fact, getting too much or too little sleep is usually the first sign of mental health issues.
- Weight gain – Weight gain is another side effect of lack of sleep. Your glucose metabolism takes a beating along with the hormones that regulate your overall metabolism, shown through decreased leptin levels and increased ghrelin levels. Leptin acts as an appetite suppressant and is released when you’re full, while ghrelin is released from the stomach in response to fasting and promotes the feeling of hunger.
- Decreased immune function – The immune system takes a big hit when you’re consistently running low on a good night’s rest. In fact, you’re three times more likely to catch a cold according to John Hopkins Medicine.
And the list goes on.
How to get sufficient sleep (The essential tips)
With all the things that can potentially go wrong with a lack of sleep, it’s no surprise we struggle when we’re tired. Lucky we can actively combat our fatigued ways through a variety of time-tested methods, hacks and tips:
Establish a (short) nightly routine
Our brain loves habits and routines. In fact, our brain loves them so much it’s a good and a bad thing. The brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s considered productive and what’s a waste of time, so it’s up to you to establish the difference between the good and the bad.
One excellent habit is to create a sort of nighttime routine, which effectively tricks the brain into bedtime mode by starting a process of chemical reactions that signal you’re about to lay down soon.
Don’t worry; this is nothing that requires some elaborate, long process. It ideally should be something short.
What do you include in this routine then?
Your options are fairly vast, anything from:
- meditating for a few minutes
- sitting down and thinking about how the day went
- thinking about some things you’re grateful for, journaling or writing
- reading for 15-30 minutes
- getting involved in a relaxing hobby
- countless other things.
By establishing a routine and following through on it consistently, you’ve successfully associated that routine with sleep.
If you notice, none of the above habits involve technology. It’s been studied extensively that blue light emitted by our screens can potentially disrupt your sleep cycle.
If you happen to find yourself on the computer in the evenings, do yourself a favor and install a program called Flux. As the night wears on, Flux continually erases the blue light more and more until it’s virtually eliminated from your screen, helping you avoid the sleep-blocking blue light.
Don’t go to bed hungry (And do eat carbs)
Most sources will agree that eating super late lends itself to a disaster — your body is allocating resources trying to digest a heavy meal and you’ll have trouble falling asleep. That heavy, pressing feeling on your stomach as you try to turn out the lights just doesn’t work for many people.
As a result, you’ll read about how staying away from food for a few hours before bed is the smart choice, especially when it involves carbs.
But studies have shown that eating carbs at night (especially starchy carbs) can actually help you fall asleep faster. Tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals involved in sleep, are naturally boosted after eating carbs. Ever felt like taking a nap after a big, starchy meal? You get the idea behind it now.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should eat a pepperoni pizza two hours before bed. But swearing off carbs after 3 PM isn’t the solution either. Don’t be afraid of them and make sure you aren’t going to bed hungry. Be reasonable.
Reserve bed for sleeping and sex only
Your bed should only be used for sleeping and aside from that, a little friskiness. Anything else has no place there.
Trying to study or read in bed is a disaster for your sleep cycle. When your head hits that pillow, your brain needs to know that it’s sleep time, not social media time or reading time or even studying time.
Remember how earlier I suggested that executing on a relaxed nighttime routine or habit tricks your brain into starting the process of releasing sleep inducing hormones and chemicals since it expects to shut down soon for some slumber?
One of those habits is getting the brain to believe that sleep is right around the corner once you lay in your bed. If you begin to associate your bed with activities such as reading or studying, your brain may fail to make the right association. It’s only science.
Listen to a podcast or audiobook
Not a fan of reading actual books? Soak it in through your ears and there’s no better time before bed. It’s a chance to kick back, relax and potentially even close your eyes as you listen to an audiobook of your choice.
If you’d prefer not to pay for the audio version of a book, there’s also thousands of podcasts available for free. Ranging from storytelling to personal development and anything in between, there’s never been a better selection of tools at your disposal.
Keep your schedule consistent
Whatever you do, keep consistency. Implementing a good routine or habit for a week and then falling off won’t do you much good. If you’re confused why something isn’t working, focus on your execution.
Things like this take time — you can’t expect a 180 turnaround after a week or two. This is especially true when you’ve already tricked your brain into association with a bad habit that you’re trying to undo.
Neuroplasticity, the ability for the brain cells to form connections based on repetition is a real thing. Like anything, it can be good or bad — if you’ve implemented great habits, neuroplasticity is an awesome thing. If you’ve implemented bad habits, it’s a bad thing.
But lucky for you, it’s completely possible to undo bad connections and form good ones with a little bit of patience and grit
Don’t wait to start
If you could start making changes today to help you get better sleep, what would you do? If you’re consistently not getting enough sleep, it’s time to implement some great habits into your lifestyle to bring yourself to peak performance.
Developing a routine, listening to audiobooks or podcasts, keeping a consistent schedule, reserving the bed for sleeping only and staying satiated are just a few of the choices at your disposal.
It’s time to go out and get the sleep you deserve.