Sleeping is strange. We spend on average a third of our life asleep. That’s time we’re not spending working, socialising, or reproducing. Yet, sleep is necessary to our survival. While it can be tempting to spend as much time awake as possible so we can be productive, not getting enough sleep is actually detrimental to both our mental and our physical health.
According to research, you need about 8 hours of sleep a day. Sleeping under 6 hours a day—which is fairly common for adult professionals—results in a decline in cognitive and motor skills in otherwise healthy people. Obviously, this comes at a huge cost to productivity and creativity. So how can you make sure to get enough sleep and sleep better?
- Get more light during the day: our body has an internal time-keeping clock called the circadian rhythm. It basically tells your body when it’s time to go to sleep. Light is an important factor to keep your circadian rhythm ticking properly. That’s partly why we struggle so much when traveling to a country in a different timezone. Our circadian rythm is all over the place. But if you’re not traveling and are still struggling to fall asleep, it may be that you’re not getting enough daylight. In a study with people suffering from insomnia, daytime light exposure improved both the sleep quality and duration for participants. It also reduced the time it took them to fall asleep by more than 80%. So try and spend more time outside.
- Reduce screen time at night: while exposure to light during the day is good for you, research shows that night time light exposure has the opposite effect. Light from electronic devices is particularly bad, as it tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. To fix this, turn off all your screens one to two hours before bedtime. Read a book instead. This also means no TV in the bedroom.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day: according to science, consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed significantly worsens your sleep quality. While there are many health benefits to moderate amounts of caffeine, drinking coffee too late in the day will keep on stimulating your nervous system and prevent your body from relaxing at night. Instead, you can have decaffeinated coffee, or better yet, non-caffeinated infusions.
- Go to bed at the right time: we tend to go to bed at different times every day. This is pretty bad for our circadian rhythm—the natural time-keeping clock I mentioned earlier. Being consistent with our sleep and waking times has been proven to help us sleep better. So try to get in the habit of waking up and going to bed at similar times. The simplest way to calculate this is to take the time when you need to wake up, and subtract 8 hours—remember, that’s the ideal number of hours of sleep you should get every day. Please note that your brain doesn’t know what a weekend is. So—and I know it can be challenging—you should try to keep that same routine going all week long.
- Relax yourself: research shows that using relaxation techniques before going to bed can improve sleep quality, and they are often used as a way to treat insomnia. You can use many different techniques, such as meditation, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, or taking a hot bath.
- Create a comfortable environment: beside using relaxing techniques, you need a comfortable bed. Have you ever wondered why you slept better in nice hotels? Research indicates that the quality of your bedding impacts the quality of your sleep. If you have the budget, consider investing in a decent mattress as well as good pillows and duvet. And beyond physical comfort, consider other aspects of your room: is it noisy? Is it cluttered? A few simple changes can make all the difference between a bad or a good night of sleep.
- Turn down the heating: surprisingly, bedroom temperature may affect sleep quality more than external noise. There’s lots of research showing that higher temperatures mean a worse quality of sleep, but scientists haven’t figured out the exact most comfortable temperature. It seems like around 20°C (70°F) is great for most people.
I should actually post this and close my laptop. Time to read a book in bed. Good night!
Anne-Laure Le Cunff
I’m an ex-Googler, entrepreneur, and part-time neuroscience student at King’s College. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about productivity, creativity, learning, and designing engaging products.
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