Depriving yourself of sleep is never ever a good idea, even though in our go-go-go society people take pride in going strong on 4 hours of sleep and tons of coffee. While everybody needs his personal amount of sleep to wake up rested and refreshed, the average human being still needs about 8 hours of sleep per night. You might trick your body into needing fewer hours of sleep by flooding it with caffeine, or by having high stress levels that keep you bouncing around, but you’re wreaking havoc on your long-term and short-term performance. In fact, sleep deprivation muddles your ability to judge a situation, and as a result you might judge your mental clarity as OK, while you’d be performing poorly in tests.
Allowing yourself adequate sleep should be a no-brainer; it should feel natural to all people and we should reclaim it as our right. Sleep is one of the most important non-negotiable elements in your self-care, but it takes courage to go against the flow of 24/7 alertness and allow your body its necessary rest so that it can rejuvenate.
Ideally, your sleep cycle should follow the natural patterns of sunset and sunrise as much as possible. You know that you have had enough sleep when you can consistently wake up at the same time in the morning without an alarm clock, feeling rested and refreshed. Besides the length of your sleep, the quality of your sleep is very important as well. Your sleep cycle consists of different levels, with deep sleep as the phase in which most restoration occurs. If your sleep is disrupted, you might find it very difficult to reach the state of deep sleep.
What can we do to improve our quality of sleep? Here are 8 techniques that you can implement:
1. Do not exercise within two to three hours prior to sleeping.
While exercise wears out your body, it also causes a boost of adrenaline through your body that makes your mind all wired, and causes your body temperature to rise. Have you taken a 9pm spinning class and then found yourself tossing around your bed without being able to sleep? It’s directly related to the unfortunate timing of your workout. Try a workout in the late afternoon instead.
2. Don’t overeat at dinner.
A full stomach makes sleeping difficult. Ideally, you should plan your dinner no later than three hours before your bedtime. Focus on protein and healthy fat for dinner, and reduce carbs. Keep your dinner light—you typically won’t need much fuel for the rest of your day anymore at dinnertime. Instead, start having larger meals for breakfast and lunch, when you actually need that fuel.
3. Have a fixed bedtime (ideally before 10pm).
While the opinions are divided on what the ideal bedtime is, and if there is a general ideal bedtime or if its personal, most health and fitness websites recommend to sleep between 9pm and 10pm, and it’s a common Dutch saying that “the hours before midnight count double”. Try to sleep around the time your body starts to secrete melatonin, which is typically around 9:30 pm. Turn off the TV and your laptop, and make your sleep a priority!
4. Sleep in a dark room.
Too much light in your room, either blue light from electronics or light peering through the curtains from outside, will interfere with your sleep and the secretion of melatonin. If you can’t eliminate certain electronics from your room, nor change to darker curtains or fully-shutting blinds, then invest in a good sleep mask. Don’t forget to take your sleep mask along for long flights as well.
5. Sleep in a cold room.
Your body cools down naturally during sleep, so a lower room temperature will support your sleep as much as possible. Switch off your heating at night, as it might leave you waking up at night feeling overheated. Leave your window ventilation open, even in winter, to allow fresh air and oxygen to enter the room. The ideal room temperature for sleeping is recommended to be 12 degrees Celsius (54 F), while other experts claim a temperature between 60 – 65F is ideal.
6. Have a bedtime ritual.
Ease into sleep by doing relaxing activities: journal, read a book, burn a candle, do some stretches, meditate, so that you can prepare yourself mentally for sleep. Create a sunset in your house by bringing down the intensity of the lights half an hour to an hour before your intended bedtime. Listen to a CD with soft music, get into your pajamas some time before you plan to sleep, and have some herbal tea or hot milk. Don’t expect that you can run all day and then press the off-switch on yourself and drift off to sleep right away!
7. Turn your bedroom into a sleep retreat.
If you have the space for doing so in your house, take all electronics (including that TV) out of your bedroom, and turn it into a sanctuary for your sleep. Decorate your bedroom with images that invoke sleep and sweet dreams. Use quality bedding and a mattress your truly enjoy, and add fresh, crisply washed sheets to your bed. If you live on a much more confined area and your bedroom equals home office, storage room and pet house, then try to keep at least your bed welcoming and free of clutter.
8. Finish your day’s business in your mind.
Plan your next day before you go to bed, so that you don’t find yourself going over everything you need to do the next day while trying to fall asleep. If necessary, write down your worries before bedtime as well. Ideally, write your goals for the next day at the end of your work day into your planner. Think positive thoughts before you sleep, and keep gratitude and success lists to reflect on your day from a positive standpoint.