We live in a world that glamorizes squeezing productivity out of every minute. It promotes hustle-culture and has people proudly comparing how few hours they sleep. Needing rest seems to run counter to working longer and harder, to the point where it can be misinterpreted as a weakness. In our 24/7 culture, where does this leave the most restorative kind of rest - sleep?
Even if we want those coveted 8 hours, sleep disorders or the always-on lifestyle can make it hard to fall asleep and have a good rest. And current events - from social injustices to climate change - can leave people feeling dizzyingly anxious and unable to turn off.
How important is sleep, really?
One thing is clear, regardless of current trends and events, our biological need for sleep is hardwired into us. The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep. But the CDC has found that 1 out of 3 Americans aren’t getting enough sleep regularly. This is an issue of national importance, as science has proven the importance of sleep for both the individual and the community. Did you know that people who lack sleep are more likely to harm themselves or others in a motor vehicle accident? Turns out, sleeping well saves lives.
But sleep isn’t just for our safety. Nature loves stacking functions, and it didn’t hold back when planning how sleep would benefit our bodies. You may already intuitively feel that good sleep is important for great cognitive function, and studies have confirmed this. But more surprising is the scientific discovery that sleep is involved in emotional regulation. That means, good sleep can lead to a good mood.
Good sleep also keeps your body and vital organs performing like you’d want them to. Your heart can be negatively affected by poor sleep, according to studies. Likewise, so can your brain and its ability to keep you alert with good memory and quick reactions. Then there’s the immune system, which is also affected by, you guessed it - sleep! Turns out, sleep can affect how sensitive you are to infectious diseases, including viruses. Your immune system gets a lot of its work done in a rhythm that’s connected to your circadian system and your sleep. So help it do its job by hitting the hay.
Do we suffer when our sleep suffers?
So what happens when we don’t get enough sleep? The biggest issue is not the one-off all-nighter, but sleep debt. Sleep debt is an accumulated deficit from insufficient sleep. The worst part for people with continuous sleep deficiency is that they get used to operating at a subpar level, and no longer notice it’s happening. How can you fix a problem you don’t know you have? Whether you’re aware or not, the consequences are real.
According to studies, sleep debt will hinder your performance of cognitive functions, like speed, accuracy and memory. Keeping your sleep debt unchecked over time can also raise your risk of chronic health problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Sleep affects your psychological well-being, affecting our emotional interpretation of events and exacerbating our stress levels. If you're sleep deprived, you might interpret an event to be a lot more negative than you would otherwise, or only remember its negative aspects. So sleep’s effect on your mood can impact not just your state, but your relationships, at home or at work. Even if you feel physically fit, sleep debt will turn you into a grouch.
So if you want to be sharper at work, kinder to your loved ones, and enjoy life, than get some good sleep. Of course, that can be easier said than done, so here’s how to make it happen.
Four Ideas For Superb Slumber
1. Routine, Routine, Routine
Do you ever find yourself rebelling against a routine that you know is good for you, like a kid who resists bath time?
Compared to the content on your Instagram feed, a sensible evening routine can feel less exciting, but don’t underestimate the benefits of a consistent routine. In fact, having a sleep routine can be a very grounding, soothing experience. It can be something reliable to depend on when life feels shaky underfoot, giving you a sense of stability and structure. Even the wildest vine needs a trunk to climb on.
A good sleep routine includes:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Keeping your weekends as close to your weekday sleep schedule as possible.
- Keeping your bedroom clean and full of fresh air.
- Increasingly dimming the lights starting at 8pm.
- Keeping the hour before bed free of work or errands.
- Avoiding or at least strongly reducing screen time and staying off social media before bed.
2. Sleep Friendly Diet
What, when and how you eat and drink can impact your sleep.
A big meal or a late-night drink may be a treat, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, those may be the culprit. For example, while you might feel that alcohol helps you fall asleep faster, it actually impairs the quality of your sleep. But keep in mind that you don’t have to give up everything you find enjoyable to sleep. This isn’t an exercise in austerity. Just try to be creative in how you balance things, and focus on staying on track a good amount of the time.
Here’s some key pointers:
- Eat a lighter meal at dinner.
- Eat earlier in the evening.
- Eat calmly and chew your food well.
- Avoid too much alcohol.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine after 3:00pm.
3. Relaxation Rituals
While your routine needs to be consistent to reap its benefits, rituals are more flexible and focused on an experience. Having rituals that make your nervous system feel relaxed can help with having a good night’s sleep. Each person needs to find out what rituals feel good for them, and take the time to experiment. Some may find true-crime podcasts as soothing as a lullaby...no judgements. In our case, here’s some things that make us feel good before bed:
- Having a cup of tea with CBD honey to wind down from the day.
- Reading a good book in a quiet spot.
- Taking a bath (bath bombs optional!).
- Going for a walk, ideally in nature .
4. Destressing Your Life
Stress is often called ‘the silent killer’ for a reason. Laying awake at night stressed about bills, work or relationships makes difficult to fall asleep. And adding anxiety to stress makes it even harder to relax at night. Stress can lead to inflammation, which left unchecked can wreak havoc on your body.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to reduce stress and promote better sleep:
- Regular exercise. Studies show that exercise makes it easier to fall asleep, and also improves your sleep quality.
- Meditation. You can do it on your own or use a guided meditation tool.
- Experimenting with CBD to see if it helps you sleep. Although more research is needed, studies suggest CBD might help people reduce anxiety.
- Therapy can help relieve nagging issues and reduce stress.
The world seems to tell us doing is more important than being. But we are human beings, not human doings. For those who need to hear it: it’s okay to just rest, it’s okay to prioritize yourself and your sleep. In a roundabout way, it’s the most selfless thing you can do. A healthy, happy you is the best gift you can give to the world, and sleep is a vital part of that.