Everyone knows the importance of a good night’s sleep, but we lead busy lives which can often throw off our natural sleep rhythm and lead to chronic sleep deprivation and insomnia. On average, studies have shown that 95% of adults need 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night to function optimally. However, a study by Harvard Medical School revealed that 20% of Americans sleep for less than 6 hours per night. Genetically, a few outliers can get away with less than 7 hours of sleep, but if you’re reading this then you’re probably not one of them!
At any age, most adults need seven and a half to eight hours of sleep to function at their best. – Harvard Medical School.
The effects of sleep deprivation simply cannot be ignored. Tiredness, muscle aches, headaches, and general irritability can all have a drastic impact on both your personal and professional life. A lack of sufficient sleep also increases your risk of heart disease, affects your memory, increases the risk of diabetes and the likelihood of obesity, and affects your mood – often resulting in mental health difficulties such as depression.
If you’re having difficulty sleeping, it’s likely that your circadian rhythm has gone out of sync. But don’t panic, it won’t stay that way forever. You can reset your circadian rhythm with just a few lifestyle adjustments that are pretty easy to make (so no excuses!).
1. Turn the Lights On
It’s natural to fall asleep in the dark and wake up when it’s bright, so manipulating your exposure to light may help to reset your circadian clock. The key to this is to sleep with the curtains open (or slightly open) in the summer months and in the winter months make sure you turn the lights on as soon as you wake up. You should also try to keep your bedroom as dark as possible at bedtime, so it might be time to invest in some blackout blinds (and ditch the screentime from bed, but we’ll talk more on that in a bit).
2. Try a 12 Hour Fast
A 2008 Harvard study showed that fasting can actually reset your circadian clock and reboot your sleep cycle. Think about the meaning behind “break-fast”, it literally means breaking a fast. This is super useful for jet lag. By fasting for 12 hours before sleep, you can trick your body into thinking it’s time for sleep (which it probably is anyway) and when you break that fast (hello breakfast!) your body will realise it’s morning. In the case of insomnia that’s not related to jet lag, this fast is still worth a go. Try eating your dinner early enough in the evening, around 3 or 4pm, and then fast until breakfast the next day at 8am. You’ll need to do this for a few days to reset your sleep clock but once it’s back on schedule you can go back to your normal meal times and finally start getting some quality sleep too.
3. Be Consistent
Consistency is the key to maintaining a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. You should really try to go to sleep and get up at the same time each day – even on the weekends. Sleeping in on a Saturday or Sunday morning can actually make it much harder to get yourself up early for work Monday morning and you’ll feel very fatigued, as you’re essential jet lagging yourself (without the holiday trip!).
4. Prepare Your Body For Sleep
You’ve probably ready a million articles about the morning habits of successful people, but what about their night time habits? Sleep hygiene is what we refer to as prepping your body to have a good night’s sleep and this involves making sure that everything you do in the run up to bedtime, such a minimizing screen time and switching off from work.
5. Avoid Caffeine After Dinner Time
Caffeine has a half-life of about 5-10 hours, so unless you want to be on high alert in bed at 1am, you may need to want to give that 8pm cup of coffee a miss. Smoking is another thing to watch out for as nicotine is a stimulant; so either quit (the best option) or refrain from smoking late in the evening.
6. Minimize Screen Time
As we mentioned earlier in this post, your body will naturally associate bright light with being awake and darkness with sleep. So if you’re shining a screen light in your face right before bed then you’re telling your body it needs to stay awake a while longer. If you can’t get away with cutting out screen time completely, then you should definitely turn down the screen brightness or try an app such as f.lux which makes your computer screen light adapt to the time of day and dim as the evening rolls around.
Doing some daily exercises will help your brain (and body!) to unwind and also combat obesity which can really mess with your sleep patterns. Try to exercise a few hours before bedtime but not within 2 or 3 hours of when you want to snooze, as it can have the opposite effect at this stage due to activity in your nervous system.
It’s Time for a Lifestyle Reboot
No one likes to be in debt and sleep debt is just as formidable. Sleep deprivation can rob you of your health, physical and mental performance, and general wellbeing. In our society right now, everyone wants to be as productive as possible. But this should never be at the expense of getting sufficient sleep. After all, you’ll never perform optimally if your mind and body don’t get the rest they need to help you be your best self!
Give these tips a go and let us know how you get on in the comments section below.