Most of us take sleep for granted until we have trouble finding it. Can you recall what it feels like to have slept long and deep enough to be truly refreshed in the morning? Sleep is every human’s downtime and far from just a pesky interruption between two important appointments in our waking lives. Our sleep is not a bug, but a fantastic feature and fundamental to our happiness.
Two sides of the same coin
You can think of sleep as a key pillar of overall health that functions like the tides: A rising tide lifts all boats, and a receding tide takes them back down again. The boats move up and down with the water level. This means that good sleep improves all aspects of our lives whereas low-quality sleep influences our lives across all areas in a negative way. Focusing on rest comes with compelling benefits because our shut-eye not only allows us to process emotional experiences, reinforces memories and stores them safely; it also helps our brains to refuel with glucose and get rid of waste products that could contribute to chronic illnesses.
On the other hand, insufficient sleep impacts us on a personal and professional level. We may experience reduced self-control, poor judgment and lower creativity.
For the leaders among us, the secondary effects of sleep deprivation may affect employees’ productivity, impact the quality of their work and hurt the professional relationship.
Get in the driver’s seat
It is best not to wait until we run into sleep-related problems. In the US, 70% of adults report that they obtain insufficient sleep at least one night per month, and 11% report insufficient sleep every night – and that was a decade before Covid hit. Sleep-related problems don’t discriminate between gender, age or socioeconomic classes, and we may feel less alone knowing that we’re in the same boat as up to 70 million Americans.
One way to seize control over our well-being is to start observing, monitoring and understanding our sleep patterns better.
The first step is to find out what our current habits around sleep are: When do we wake up and when do we go to bed? How do we fall asleep? Do we wake up during the night and if so, why? Do we feel tired during the day? What’s the last thing we do before going to sleep?
It’s important to point out that we were all born with a unique wiring or sleep chronotype. Our brain’s sleep-wake cycle is called the circadian rhythm and it is the internal clock that our brain uses to signal when to make us feel alert or sleepy over a 24-hour period. That means that regardless of whether we’re night owls or early birds, we can be highly productive if we do things when it suits our internal schedule best.
Of course, we rarely get to select our office hours or when to go to school. But we can try to organize our day, make important decisions, exercise or go to sleep when it’s best for our bodies. If we start taking notice of how we feel when we restructure our daily life, we may find out that it’s all about small tweaks and observing our bodies’ responses over time.
How to break a vicious cycle
Once we find out that we’re not taking full advantage of our productive times, we might want to change some of our habits. Now, we’ve all heard that we can’t change – let alone improve -what we can’t measure. Here’s where technology comes in handy.
There are plenty of free apps, devices and wearables that can help us get started. Even pen and paper can make all the difference in getting to know ourselves better and deciding what needs to change first. But it’s not all about self-improvement. Most people do not notice when their health starts to decline or when it happens incrementally.
That’s why continuously collecting our own data is so important. Once we start harnessing the power of stats, we’ll quickly be able to spot the difference between an occasional bad night and the onset of an avoidable vicious cycle: Poor sleep has a direct impact on our mental well-being, just as mental health issues may lead to poor sleep. The good news is: It works the other way around too, and we can drive that change!
But wait, where do we start making changes that stick?
Here’s a list of small routines that are easy to incorporate into our daily life. Take advantage of reminders in free habit tracker apps such as Earkick to establish new micro-routines effortlessly.
|Keeping bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, even on weekends||Stay on the phone or other devices before and during bedtime|
|Writing down tasks and plans to clear our minds for the night||Long or frequent naps|
|Journaling to express thoughts and feelings and stop rumination before bedtime||Caffeine after noon or more than 2 cups of coffee per day|
|Staying active with regular, light exercise||Smoking|
|Calming breathing exercises||Alcohol before bedtime|
|Using calming nature sounds and music||Large meals before bedtime|
|Reading a good book||Watch a series before bedtime|
|Taking a warm bath or shower||Working until right before bedtime|
|Listening to a guided session or sleep story||Having upsetting calls before sleep|
|Drinking herbal tea (valerian, kava root, chamomile, peppermint, ashwagandha)||Not drinking enough water or drinking too much water|
|Checking our medications||Putting up with pain|
|Fully darkened and cooled bedroom||Clutter on and around the bed|
|Diffusers with chamomile or lavender to enhance tranquillity||Stuffy air in the bedroom|
|Earplugs and a sleep mask||Noise pollution and blue lights|
|Mindfulness for 10 minutes (meditation, yoga, prayer, progressive muscle relaxation)||People or things that we dislike in our bedroom|
|Drinking warm milk before sleep||Popping sleeping pills without a proper plan|
Start small and start now
The safest way towards creating a new sleep-related habit is to start small. Rather than trying to change the whole list, we’re better off picking only one goal – ideally the lowest-hanging fruit and starting right away. With every successful tweak to our sleep routine, we will feel more empowered and energised.
Did you know that good sleep already starts in the morning? An established routine, where we plan our day and set our mind to whatever small adjustment we select is already half the work.
And for the ones of us who find it easier to start working on great sleep with a sparring partner – go for it! It’s an effective way to keep each other accountable, motivated and engaged.
Want to dig deeper into the science of sleep and how it’s connected to body and mind? Check out the following sources:
- Why Do We Sleep, Anyway?
- How Sleep Works
- The Characteristics of Sleep
- Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep
- How Much Is Bad Sleep Hurting Your Career?
- Can resetting the body clock help with depression?
- 8 secrets to a good night’s sleep
- Here’s a real deep dive of three hours with two exceptional personalities: Sleep Is Non-Negotiable: Dr Matthew Walker | Rich Roll
Karin Andrea Stephan is a mental health tech founder with an academic background in music, psychology, digital management, and transformation.