My dear friend playfully refers to the obvious moments of self-awareness as “duh, jerk” moments—and the scientific fact that we need sleep for peak performance certainly qualifies as a “duh, jerk.” The CDC has shown that we need sleep for cognitive sharpness and that we’re chronically sleep-deprived. And while it’s annoying if one of our kids or a tossing and turning partner has denied us some shuteye, it can also be life-threatening.
Getting Good Sleep Starts with Habits in the Day
So what’s to be done? Habits like exercising on a regular basis and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon or alcohol in the evening are clearly good starts. Adding mindfulness throughout the day can also help mitigate the stress accrued.
Making a Top-shelf Sleepytime Routine
Create a sleepytime routine to cue your mind that it’s time to go into airplane mode. Maybe have a small cup of herbal tea an hour or two before bed and save the super intense Netflix series for the weekend. Do some light stretching and meditation as part of preparing for sleep.
Making Bed an Optimal Sleep Zone
Aim for a quiet, dark space for rest by kicking your laptop and phones out of the bedroom and buying an old school alarm clock. Up your mattress and blanket game: breakthroughs in weighted blankets, essential oil diffusers, and various material types for pillows, all mean that we have options for creating optimal sleep conditions. Listen to a guided meditation or body scan, or engage the relaxation response with extended exhales. If you inhale for 3 seconds, exhale for 5. Repeat for a few rounds.
Making Friends with Middle Sleep
Research has started to compile that the notion of a solid, uninterrupted 8 hours might be a byproduct of overzealous industrialists. And yet, that middle of the night waking has become the new place for us to judge ourselves.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, have a journal or some boring reading material next to your bed.
Do another body scan starting from your feet up. Allow for thoughts to be present but return to the sensation in the body. Often we wake up because we’re worried, anxious, excited, or otherwise need to acknowledge some pent up stress.
If you’re up for awhile, get up. It sounds counterintuitive, but tossing and turning can prove frustrating and counterproductive. If a few body scans and some light reading in bed doesn’t cut it, get up and sit somewhere quiet. Avoid the urge to jump into your phone or laptop to “get a start” on the day. Johns Hopkins offers some further tips.
Recovering from a Wrecked Wake Up
When you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, beware of extra caffeine or cookies consumed later to compensate. It’s tempting to power through, but remember that the energy comes from your reserves, so you’ll head for a hard crash without care.
Try to eat well and fuel up on protein, whole grains, and veggies. Let people know as best you can if you’re operating at a deficit. Sleep deprivation isn’t just inconvenient — it can be dangerous. Get support and be honest as best you can — your coworkers, clients, and business are all at stake.