If you are experiencing memory loss, low energy, irritability, weight gain and loss of cognitive function, you could have a medical condition. Or, you could just need more sleep.
In our society we wear our sleep deprivation like a badge. Its proof that we have it all – we work harder than anyone we know, we party hard into the wee hours of the night because of our busy social life…we have made it, and we have the bags under our eyes to prove it. We also have excess weight, a short temper, and an in ability to make good decisions, along with several other not so nice side effects of not enough sleep. We are, to put it simply, a mess, but we look good on paper, don’t we?
Sleep is the most underrated biohack there is. It is not glamorous or cutting edge. In fact, you have probably heard that you need to get more sleep since you were in your teens. If you are anything like I was, you feel like you are fine on 6 hours. Why is that we accept this lifestyle when we know we shouldn’t?
Sleep deprivation is no joke. When we don’t get enough hours, not only do we drag around with dark circles under our eyes, but we can’t hold conversations, we can’t concentrate, and we are irritable. We all know this first hand, but did you also know that it can impair your judgement when it comes to tasks like driving and your decision-making abilities at work? Not to mention that you experience a decreased ability to handle stress, increased anxiety, slowed reaction time, and significant memory impairment, as well an overall loss of cognitive ability. Long term sleep deprivation can have serious effects, like depression, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, decreased sex drive and diabetes.
The benefits of getting enough sleep are simple: you don’t experience the above.
Most people are sleep deprived and do not realize it. We operate in such fast paced, high stress, overstimulated world that we don’t even notice the effect is having on us anymore. If we could decompress a bit and get adequate rest, the benefits to our system would be noticeable.
If you are noticing any of the symptoms noted above, try adding an hour of rest to your day and see if you notice a difference. Just an hour can increase your energy level, help you think better and add more patience to your day. If you can’t sleep in a bit or go to bed earlier, try adding a short nap at lunch or when you get home. Every little bit helps.
With all the stimulation in our daily lives, it can be hard to find the time to go to bed earlier, and when you do get into bed, its hard to calm down enough to get to sleep. There are a number of things you can try to help with that.
First, try getting into a bedtime routine. It tells your mind that its time to shut down, and by the time your head hits the pillow, you should be ready for sleep. Your routine will be personal to you. It can include putting on pajamas, reading, relaxing with a cup of decaf herbal tea, or even cleaning up the kitchen and getting coffee ready for the morning. Whatever your routine is, you will notice after a week or so that your body will start to feel relaxed and ready to shut down. My bedtime routine includes turning everything off, cleaning up anything that remains in the kitchen, getting my coffee pot ready for the morning and getting into my Athlete Recovery pajamas (I am not affiliated with them but I swear by these). Once in bed, I use California Poppy Seed Extract (this is the one I use; again not affiliated with it, it’s just the one I use) for a natural way to help me wind down a little faster.
Next, try a digital downtime. Turn off the television, put your phone in the charger and not next to your bed, and out away the i-pad. If you want to read, read an actual book instead of a Kindle. The blue light from our devices disrupts your brainwaves and adds to the inability to fall asleep. Some people watch t.v. to fall asleep, and while I understand that (I am one of those), it is important to listen to your body cues and turn it off when you feel yourself getting ready to sleep.
Another thing to try is a specific sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even weekends. It allows your body to get into a rhythm Make bedtime a priority. Set an alarm and consider it an appointment you have to keep. When the alarm goes off, no more to do list, no more emails, no more conversation with spouses. It’s an appointment, and you keep it. You will notice you start to get tired on cue when you have gotten into the routine, and you will start to wake up on your own.
In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington recommends a sleep experiment to see how much sleep you really need. You will need an extended vacation to try this, but go to sleep at the same time every night, and track when you wake up. After the first few days you will recover from some of your exhaustion and get into a rhythm, and your natural waking time will show you how much sleep is optimal for you. Be careful though, because this can be deceiving. If you are in a chronic state of stress, anxiety or depression, this will affect your sleep pattern and could have you waking up earlier than you should.
When I was married, I was constantly stressed and anxious. Living in fear of someone’s every move doesn’t do much for your sleep habits, and I thought I only needed 6.5 hours for years. As soon we split up and I moved out, my natural rhythm kicked in and I found myself sleeping 8 hours consistently within a few weeks. This was after a solid week of 10 hour nights, so don’t let yourself be fooled by a body in recovery mode.
Remember that you will need more sleep in recovery, whether its emotional or physical recovery. This is because sleep is when your body repairs itself. If you do not get enough sleep, your body cannot repair itself adequately, which can contribute to injuries as well as exhaustion. This is true even if you are not injured but do strenuous workouts. Any athlete will tell you that it is very important to allow your body to sleep as much as it needs while in recovery. You may need to adjust your schedule to accomplish this, especially if you have an office job.
What makes sleep the ultimate biohack is that it is something we can all do, it costs us nothing to do, and it has a significant impact on all facets of our life. It has no side effects. It instantly enhances mood, performance and cognitive function. You don’t have to buy it. You can’t run out of it, and you can do it everyday to get all of these great effects.
So, let me ask you… is it nap time? Are you ready to make sleep your favorite biohack this year?
I would love to hear from you! What is your favorite way to wind down or your sleep ritual?