How to Get More Sleep

We recently covered the importance of getting enough rest. But what if you, like millions of Americans, suffer from a lack of sleep?

A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 20% of Americans get less than 6 hours of sleep on average, and the number of Americans who report getting 8 hours or more is decreasing. You can see the whole report here.

There are two main obstacles to a good night’s sleep: lack of time (to squeeze in 7-9 hours), and lifestyle issues that affect your ability to sleep deeply. Of course, the two are intertwined – if you’re that pressed for time, one can assume that you’re fairly stressed out. If you don’t sleep enough, you’re more susceptible to stress and all its nasty side effects.

Time is a big challenge – you can’t just quit your job, or stop feeding your kids, or leave work undone. You can, however, experiment with different time management techniques to help streamline your schedule. (Note to self: write an article about time management.)

Rearranging your whole entire life is hard. Instead of doing that, focus on what’s possible NOW. As in, tonight.

Here are a few suggestions to promote a long, restful night’s sleep:

1. Cut back on caffeine.  It’s a vicious cycle – the more you consume, the more you need. The more  caffeinated you are throughout the day, the more likely you are to experience sleep disturbances. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more tired…and you crave more caffeine, and so on. To free yourself from this pattern, start small. Cut back gradually, drink lots of water, and take it slow.

2. Reduce sugar intake, especially at night.  Whacked-out blood sugar is not conducive to restful sleep. Ideally, you should avoid eating for at least three hours before bed. If that’s not possible, eat lighter, smaller portions at night, and avoid sweet snacks and alcohol.

3. Hydrate.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Start each day with a big glass of water, and aim for two liters a day. For best results, try “front-loading” your water intake – drinking most of it in the first half of the day. That way you won’t have to use the restroom in the middle of the night.

4. Bed is for one (well, two) things only.  If you’re watching TV or working in bed, your brain has a hard time picking up on the “hey – it’s bedtime” cue. By restoring the bedroom to a place reserved for sleep and sex only, you’ll start cuing your brain to shut down. Get rid of the TV, leave your cellphone and laptop in another room, and de-clutter as much as you can.

5. Impose a media curfew.  You probably spend most (if not all) of your workday in front of a screen. Why would you want any more? By the way – the television counts as a screen. Try to give yourself at least one screen-free hour before bedtime. This gives your brain time to process the day – which helps prevent the racing, “monkey mind” that keeps so many people awake.

6. Turn off the lights. I mean, ALL the lights. Blackout curtains, sleeping masks…pitch black. Darkness promotes the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone. Light inhibits it (so you can wake up in the morning). You can take this a step further by dimming the lights for your last waking hour.

Lastly, DON’T try to take on all of these at once. Pick one or two ideas that seem the most doable to you right now, and start with those. For instance, if you decide to cut back on caffeine, GOOD FOR YOU. Leave it at that until you feel ready to tackle something else.

Do you have any experience with sleeplessness? What did you do about it, or is it still a struggle? Use the comments below to share your story!

Written by Sam

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