At ACS, we build a better world, every day. Literally.
But we also try to build better lives. One of the best ways to stay safe, make better decisions, and think more clearly is to get good sleep.
Americans are coping with stress by working longer hours, exercising less, watching more TV, and drinking more caffeine. This makes it harder to fall asleep, so they are drinking more alcohol or taking sleeping pills to fall asleep faster.
The result is a nasty feedback cycle resulting in poor sleep.
Research shows that regular, restful sleep increases professional athlete performance as much as taking performance-enhancing drugs.
In other words, if you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, you are missing out on the single best thing you can do to improve your life.
Recently, I took Matthew Walker’s MasterClass on Sleep. It was a real eye-opener.
Now I’m joining the Sleep Revolution and doing the single most important thing I can do to improve my life: getting better sleep.
“Sleep is your life-support system and Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality,” says Stanford scientist Matthew Walker.
If you want to improve your memory, fight Alzheimer’s, boost your immune system, and think more clearly then good sleep is essential.
Before I share Dr. Walker’s recommendations for getting better sleep, I need to share something surprising he said.
You aren’t going to believe this, but it makes perfect sense.
There is no such thing as a “sleep bank”.
It’s not possible to catch up on lost sleep. Sure, you won’t be quite so tired, after you sleep in on the weekend. But if you don’t get enough sleep, you can never catch up on what you lost. Your DNA won’t repair itself as it would have. Your immune system won’t get back to normal levels of killer T cells. You won’t remember what you forgot. There is no backlog for your body to catch up on.
The point? You either get enough sleep or you don’t. So make sure you do.
Now, here are some key takeaways from Matthew Walker’s MasterClass on Sleep:
Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
Our body thrives on consistency. If you want better sleep, going to bed and waking at the same time on a consistent basis is essential. Choose a time to go to sleep and try to stick with it, even on the weekends, when it can be tempting to stay up late or sleep in.
Get more exercise.
A key to deeper sleep is, surprise, more exercise! If you want to fall asleep faster and sleeping deeper, then get at least 30 minutes of cardio every day.
Also, get out of your chair more. Sitting is the new smoking and staying in your chair all day is killing you.
It’s hard to remember to get up, so I use the Pomodoro Technique. It reminds me to get out of my chair every twenty-five minutes and do some yoga stretches. Then, when it’s time to sleep, my body doesn’t ache and I fall asleep more quickly.
Take a short nap.
Our circadian rhythm causes a natural drop in our energy between 1 and 2 p.m.
If you find yourself nodding off, don’t drink more coffee. Harness the momentum of your body clock to get better sleep. A 10-15 minute nap will get you over the afternoon dip, without drinking more caffeine.
I’ve been napping for years. Rather than fighting the nods, I take a quick cat nap and awaken refreshed.
Limit your stimulant intake.
Eliminate your intake of caffeine and nicotine in the afternoon.
These stimulants take hours and hours to get out of your bloodstream and will interfere with good sleep.
Limit your sugar intake before bed.
Thinking of a sugary snack after dinner? Sugar causes a spike in body temperature. That’s exactly the opposite of what your body needs to fall asleep.
If you are going to eat a sweet treat, either eat less or choose something that’s low glycemic.
Minimize exposure to allergens.
Certain types of foods cause histamine reactions, which in turn cause congestion. This obstructs the breathing passage and contributes to snoring.
Avoid this by paying attention to how your body reacts to what you eat, so you can breathe freely.
Minimize the use of depressants.
Many people use depressants, like alcohol or cannabis, to relax and fall asleep. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can interfere with your sleep. Limit your intake and find the right balance for better sleep.
Don’t watch dramatic TV shows before bed.
Crime shows, video games and high drama get our adrenaline pumping. It takes hours for our bodies to get back to a state of relaxation.
It’s easy to change what you watch. Comedy, cooking, and nature shows help your mind wind down. You’ll laugh more (always a good thing), learn something new, and sleep better.
That will help you get good REM (dream) sleep, and help you remember better.
Have a wind-down period of an hour before sleep.
Set up an evening ritual that tells your body it’s time to sleep.
Make the hour before bed the time you find a room and luxuriate in reading a real book. Listening to an audiobook can also help you unwind.
Turn down the lights.
Our brains get sleepy when light levels decrease.
Unfortunately, we’ve disrupted this natural cycle, with devices and electric lights.
Turn off your devices and minimize your exposure to bright light. Also, stay away from bright LED lights that will wake your body up.
Keep a worry journal.
Feeling stressed? Write it down in your worry journal.
Writing your concerns down gets it out of your head, making it easier to relax knowing that you aren’t going to forget something important.
In conclusion, there are numerous benefits to good sleep. It will improve your memory, raise your energy levels, boost your immune system, and much more.
Ready to change your life and get serious about sleep? Check out Matthew Walkers TED talk.
I promise. It’s well worth your time.