SLEEP: IS IT REALLY THAT IMPORTANT

You know what most people fixate on when trying to be healthy? Calories and Peloton. You know what people should actually be focused on? Sleep.

Sleep is the foundation for anything else we can do for our health, which is why I’m not ashamed to say I’m pretty obsessed with it. 

When my boyfriend and I first started dating I was so anxious because I thought my sleep quality would be horrible. Fast forward two years and I’ve gotten over that (although we do use separate duvets…) but I still have a few systems in place to guarantee my beauty sleep.

Here are my 5 tips to get better sleep. You’ve probably heard them before, but let me explain because we’re getting deep:

Number 1: We need eight to ten hours of sleep.

There is no magic solution or pill for lack of sleep. Getting eight to ten hours per night is just about the most important piece of advice to heed in order to be a healthy individual. There is a special group of people who can function properly on six hours of sleep. You may even identify as one of these people. But the stats show that this is less than 3% of the population, so don’t trick yourself into thinking that a six-hour sleep schedule is healthy for you or that you can make up a sleep debt on the weekends. That has also been debunked.

Number 2: Avoid caffeine after 3pm.

Depending on how you metabolize caffeine, it usually has a half life of 5 hours. That means that there are still probably traces of caffeine in your system up to 10 hours after your last cup of coffee and caffeine has huge effects on the quality of your sleep.

You know what negatively impacts your sleep even more? Alcohol. According to Matthew Walker in “Why We Sleep” – “Alcohol is one of the most powerful suppressors of REM sleep that we know of.” It may help you fall asleep, but it’s super detrimental from there.

Number 3: Turn off screens an hour before bed.

I struggle mightily with this one, but I have the data. When I decide to read for 45 minutes before bed instead of watching TV or looking at my phone, my sleep quality improves by something like 20%. This is so important and the best way to do it is to leave screens out of the bedroom. Even reading on a Kindle before bed has been shown to decrease the release of melatonin in our brains by as much as 50% compared to reading a printed book.

Number 4: Listen to your circadian rhythm and go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

Our bodies are creatures of habit. One of the best ways to get quality sleep is to keep the same bed and wake up time even on the weekends. To take that a step further – Research shows that humans get the most deep sleep between 10pm and 2am and you’ll get most of your REM sleep between 2am and 4am. Going to bed past 10pm is cutting down some of our most efficient and valuable sleep time. 

There’s nothing we can really do about this. Our circadian rhythm is so strong even when we fight against it. Our bodies want to go to bed when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light – but it’s even deeper than that. I could shut you in a pitch black cave for a month and your body would still naturally want to sleep between 10pm and 6am. I’m not kidding. People have actually done it – Look up Nathanial Kleitman to learn more.

Number 5: Try not to worry about sleep.

I’ve spent this entire article telling you how important sleep is, but the worst thing we can do to our sleep is worry about it. I want you to implement these systems of eight hours of sleep, limiting caffeine, turning screens off before bed, and going to bed at the same time each night, but I don’t want you to obsess about them. If you can build these into your routine so you don’t have to worry about sleep so much, that’s the goal. Worrying about our sleep is the best way to get bad sleep.

Really quick before I go – we have to go back and address my comment on our fixation on exercise and nutrition. Of course, these lifestyle factors are important, but sleep is the real key. The best way to ensure that your workout and clean eating is completely useless is to get bad sleep.

The risks are big here. Bad sleep increases your risk of alzheimers, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, low sex drive, diabetes and depression.

People treat sleep deprivation as though there are no long term side effects at all. Sleep is when your body recovers from workouts and encodes information. Lack of sleep releases the hunger hormone that leads to overeating. When we’re irritable from only getting 5 hours of sleep, our mental health is seriously affected and our relationships are strained. Sleep affects every factor of health.

“Two thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep.”

Try not to be part of the two-thirds.