Why we don't sleep. Image is frustrated woman with insomnia

Why We Don’t Sleep: Simple Ways to Improve Sleep

Sleep is one of the foundational habits for flourishing. It is also one of the things we tend to sacrifice. We often don’t realize the cost of a lack of sleep. More than 17,000 scientific reports show that getting a full night of rest regularly can improve your memory, lower your risk of disease, improve your creativity, decrease risk of depression and anxiety, and increase your sense of happiness. (Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker) If you consistently get less than six to seven hours of slumber, you double your risk of cancer. It is estimated that two thirds of Americans don’t get the recommended 8 hours of sleep. Are you one of them?

Tired = Drunk?

One skipped night of sleep has the same effect of being drunk. Not sleeping dramatically diminishes your performance in all areas and also diminishes your psychological well being. I used to work night shift and I know some days I was so tired driving home from work that I probably could have been pulled over for being drunk. My commute is about 35 minutes. I used to have to stop halfway home and take like a 15 minute nap in a parking lot before I could drive the rest of the way home safely. One morning I didn’t make it all the way to my resting point and had an accident. I know I was not the safest driver on the road those days.

Let’s look at why we don’t sleep:

1. We don’t value it. You might think, “oh, I’ll just stay up late and watch one more episode on Netflix,” and you sacrifice that extra hour (or more) of sleep.

2. We are inconsistent. Having a consistent bedtime and a consistent bedtime routine sets the stage for your brain to initiate the sleep process.

3. Too much light. In general, we go to bed we have light from multiple screens like our phones, iPads, or television. Getting all that blue light exposure reduces our melatonin which in turn delays the onset of sleep and also delays the onset of deep sleep. So even once you get to sleep, it takes you longer to get deep sleep. Blue light also stimulates cortisol, your stress hormone due to stimulation from TV shows internet scrolling, etc.

4. Substances. Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco can all impair sleep.

5. We eat too close to bedtime. Your body performs all sorts of vital functions as you sleep. If you are still digesting at bedtime, it can delay the body’s ability to do those functions.

6. We exercise too close to bedtime. Stimulation from exercise can keep you awake longer than you’d like.

7. No sleep sanctuary. Your bedroom should be cool and as dark as possible. Even small lights from electronic devices can impair your sleep. If you are a night shift worker sleeping in the daytime, have blackout curtains on your windows and soundproof your room as much as possible. A sound machine is a great investment to mask the sound of family members or neighbors while you rest.

Numb to the problem

The funny thing is, when we’re sleep deprived, especially if it’s chronic, the less your body is able to sense it. You feel like you’re okay. And until you start getting really good sleep, you don’t realize how not okay, you are. There’s a Greek philosopher, Seneca, that said “The worse a person is the less he feels it,” and that seems to be true when it comes to sleep deprivation.

So, what can we do for better sleep?

Here are some tips to improve your sleep based on the challenges above. See which habits you might want to include in your routine.

  • Stop caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Some people might need to stop even earlier.
  • Exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime. Excercise gives you a 12 hour mood boost so the earlier you can do it, the more benefit you will get from that.
  • Stop eating 4 hours before bedtime. At a minimum, stop 2 hours before.
  • Shut down technology at least 1 hour before bedtime. The stimulation from tech will keep you awake longer.
  • Create a sleep sanctuary in your bedroom.

What will you work on?

Comment below and let me know what you plan to work on first.

If you’re working on new habits this post might interest you next: Morning Routines

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