You will spend nearly a third of your entire life sleeping. Don’t be fooled into thinking that is time wasted. Sleep is one of the most important keys to success, and if you’re going to spend that much of your life doing it; you owe it to yourself to get the most out of your time.
Dr. Matthew Walker, founder of The Center for Human Sleep Science, has spent his life studying sleep, its effects on the brain, and human behavior. “Sleep has an image problem in society” notes Dr. Walker. “We seem to stigmatize sleep and suggest that people who are getting sufficient sleep are being lazy.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The science is quite clear; lack of sleep hurts productivity and creativity. Sleeping less than eight hours leads to employees taking on less challenging tasks, producing fewer creative solutions, and exerting less effort overall. It can even cost you your life.
The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life. “You can sleep when you’re dead has always struck me as ironic, if you adopt that mindset, evidence shows you’ll get there sooner.” Says Dr. Walker. Short sleep predicts all-cause mortality and has been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression, cancer, and more.
The stakes are high, and sleep deserves your attention. If you want to get the most out of your life and live longer, make quality sleep a priority. In a recent interview on The Science of Success, Dr. Walker laid out his five evidence-based steps to getting enough sleep.
Regularity Is Key
Your mind and body fall into rhythms. Routine is key to ensuring you get enough sleep and make the most of each day. Think of your gym or workout routine. You set aside time to be active because you know the health benefits of exercise. Treat sleep the exact same way.
Dr. Walker practices this routine himself, “I give myself a non-negotiable 8-hour opportunity, every single night.” This routine ensures his body and minds fall into a rhythm that primes him for optimal rest.
Luckily, it’s never been easier to block out this time. iPhones come equipped with a “bedtime” setting that helps you block out these 8 hours. There are also several apps in the marketplace to help you block out this time and fall asleep faster.
“Keep your bedroom cool. Around 68 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for most people.” Points out Dr. Walker. Science has proven your body needs to drop its core temperature by about 2 or 3 degrees in order to initiate sleep. This is why you always seem to fall asleep faster in a room that is too cold versus one that is too hot. If you’re still struggling to get the sleep you need, try taking a hot shower or bath before bed.
“Most people think that when they have a hot bath, they get into bed, they’re nice and warm and that’s what lets them fall asleep more easily. It’s actually the opposite,” says Dr. Walker. When you take a hot shower or bath, blood flows from the core of the body to the surface of the skin. This process is called mass vasodilation.
Dr. Walker continues, “once you get out of the bath with all of that blood near the surface of your skin, you have this massive thermal dump. Heat evacuates from the body, which plummets your core temperature causing you to fall asleep more quickly.” So next time you’re struggling to get to sleep; hack your biology, treat yourself to a nice hot bath, and fall asleep more quickly.
Embrace Darkness, Not Devices
Darkness allows the release of the hormone melatonin, which is crucial to sleep. If you’re sitting in a well-lit room, using your phone, or browsing with a laptop, your brain won’t release the necessary melatonin. Just briefly looking at a screen can push melatonin production back by three hours or more.
“Keep it dim. Turn down half the lights in the evening; you don’t need them all on the last hour of the day. Avoid all screens an hour before bed.” Recommends Dr. Walker. You can also purchase blackout shades to make any room ideal for a good night sleep. So next time you’re tempted to pick up that phone or tablet in bed, reach for a book instead.
Getting Up To Get Down
Whether you’re trying to fall asleep or fall back asleep after waking up in the night, get out of bed after 20 minutes of trying. “Your brain is a remarkably associated device. If you’re lying in bed awake, it quickly learns that being in bed is about being awake not being asleep.” Notes Dr. Walker. If you aren’t sleeping get out of bed.
If you find that you can’t get to bed, get up, don’t stress about it and grab a book to read in another room. However, two rules – no screens and no eating. Using a phone, tablet, or eating late at night will only delay your ability to get back to sleep.
You Might Not Want To Hear It, BUT…
You need to cut out all caffeine after noon and avoid alcohol in the evenings. While this may be the most unpopular science-based tactic for getting the most from your slumber, it’s one of the most important and misunderstood.
Everyone knows that caffeine activates you. Despite this, many still enjoy a coffee or espresso late in the evening after dinner. They argue, “Well, I can drink an espresso after dinner and I still sleep just fine. I even stay asleep the entire night!”
Dr. Walker notes that while that may be true, the consequences aren’t felt until the next day. “They simply won’t feel fresh or restored. They don’t remember struggling to fall asleep, they don’t equate it with the cup of coffee, yet now they find themselves reaching for three cups of coffee the next day, building their dependency.”
Then, there’s alcohol. “Alcohol is probably the most misunderstood drug when it comes to sleep,” According to Dr. Walker’s research. Alcohol is in a class of drugs called Sedative-Hypnotics. Sedation is not sleeping. Many might say that alcohol actually helps them get to sleep but the science tells a different story. “You’re simply sedating your cortex, you’re knocking out your brain essentially. You’re not getting into natural, valuable sleep.”
Your quality of sleep each night is going to determine the quality of your life each and every day. It is the building blocks upon which your health both physically and mentally is built.
These five tactics are recommended by the world’s top sleep experts and are based on hard science. Try them out for a week. Measure the impact it has on your productivity, happiness, and overall quality of life. You will see the true power of a good night’s rest.