World Sleep Day: Get Better Sleep
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Sleep is important for so many areas in our lives. However, it is also very underrated and is often skipped when we are living our busy lives. So, in honor of World Sleep Day, let’s learn to prioritize sleep so we can reap all of the amazing benefits quality sleep gives us.
Read on to learn why sleep is important, how it impacts various areas of our lives, and how to get more of it. It’s time to prioritize sleep so you can be the best version of yourself!
It is help to understand the sleep stages so we can understand why we need a certain amount of sleep to feel well-rested, productive, and our best selves.
The first stage, N1, is very light sleep. This serves as a gateway from wakefulness to deeper sleep stages required to feel refreshed and rested. In young adults without insomnia, N1 is usually around 5% of the night. Those who suffer from insomnia and older adults tend to spend more of their night in this first stage. If awakened during this stage, many will report they were not asleep.
N2 is a deeper stage than N1, and healthy adults usually spend 40-55% of their night in this stage. If awakened in this stage, people will report being asleep.
N3, also called slow-wave or delta sleep, is the deepest sleep stage. In healthy adults, this occupies around 10-20% of the night. This is often associated with restorative and rebuilding processes that are required to feel well rested and refreshed in the morning. People require more stimulation to be awakened in this stage and will often feel groggy if they wake up during this stage.
After the three stages of non-REM sleep, REM sleep begins. This is where blood flow to the brain is increased, heart rate and breathing become more irregular, and rapid eye movements can be observed. Rapid eye movements are usually associated with dreaming, and therefore most dreaming occurs in this stage.
During this stage, although brain wave activities are like activity seen when individuals are awake, the body is in a state of paralysis so people cannot act out their dreams.
Throughout the night, these stages occur in predictable cycles. Individuals without sleep issues will usually go through a brief period of N1, followed by a longer period of N2, and then N3 usually 30-45 minutes into their sleep. N3 can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour on average depending on age and other factors.
REM sleep usually occurs 70-90 minutes into this cycle and is relatively short,
followed by a return of N2 sleep, which then begins the cycle again. About 3 hours or so into the night (at the end of the second sleep cycle), REM sleep returns for a longer period. For the rest of the night, non-REM and REM sleep alternate in approximately 90-minute cycles.
Sleep and Our Lives
The reasons we sleep remain a mystery to some extent. However, we do know that sleep is implicated in many areas of our lives.
Sleep is involved in almost everything that we do. Sleep is related to our productivity, energy, attention and concentration, our ability to maintain a healthy weight, stick with our health goals, and so much more.
Read on to see how sleep impacts us in these areas more specifically.
Sleep and Productivity
When we are low on sleep, we tend to suffer from poor attention and concentration, distractibility, and low energy. Not exactly the winning combination for high productivity, right?
If you are noticing that you are sluggish or having difficulty concentrating in the workplace or in the other things that you are doing, lack of sleep is likely the culprit. Although it is tempting to stay up late and skip sleep to accomplish various things, this actually backfires since it is much harder to feel energetic, productive, and attentive the next day.
Imagine a night of great sleep and waking up feeling well rested- you’re likely to have high energy, great attention, and high productivity.
Versus, working in slow motion and taking twice as long to do the same tasks when you are sleep deprived. Which would you choose?
The bottom line is quality sleep is important for helping us to feel well rested, productive, and attentive. The best way to work smarter and more efficiently, rather than harder, is to prioritize sleep.
Sleep and Physical Health
Sleep is so important in maintaining a healthy weight and obtaining our health goals. Ever tried to force yourself to go to the gym when you are exhausted and low energy? I bet it was not very enjoyable to go and difficult to get to the gym in the first place.
It is hard to be physically active if we are feeling sluggish and tired.
Furthermore, hunger hormones are related to the quality of our sleep. When we skimp on sleep, the hunger hormone, ghrelin, increases. Sleep-deprived adults tend to have higher ghrelin levels, more hunger, and less feelings of fullness compared to adults who get 7-8 hours of sleep.
Ever wondered why you are extra hungry after a poor night sleep?
Now you know-the hunger hormones are in over drive. Not only are we going to feel hungrier, but we are likely to reach for high-fat, high-calorie, and high-carb foods to satiate that hunger. Poor eating habits can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions.
Additionally, leptin, the hormone responsible for telling us that we are full, is less active when we do not sleep well. As you can imagine, higher activation of our hunger hormone and lower activation of the hormone that tells us we are full is not exactly a great combination when we are trying to reach our health goals and be physically healthy and well.
If you want to feel physically healthy and reach your health goals, prioritize sleep!
Sleep and Mood
Quality sleep is incredibly important for overall mood management. When we do not sleep well, we tend to wake up with more irritability, a lower frustration tolerance, and higher stress. Sleep and stress/anxiety are highly correlated.
When we don’t sleep well, cortisol, the stress hormone in the body, is released. When we are higher stress and feeling anxious, this can also make it harder to fall asleep at night. So, if you are skipping sleep and wondering why you are regularly irritable and high stress, lack of sleep may be the culprit.
Poor sleep can increase the risk for anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Because poor sleep can negatively impact thinking and emotional regulation, people who regularly skip sleep are likely to be at higher risk of the development of psychiatric disorders.
In those without psychiatric disorders, sleep can still negatively impact our mood and lead to increases in irritability and high stress. Therefore, quality sleep is an important factor in emotional regulation and mood.
Sleep and Immune System Functioning
Poor sleep can also negatively impact the immune system. Various studies have shown that people who regularly do not receive quality or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.
Lack of sleep can also increase the amount of time that it takes to recover when we do get sick. This is related to less infection fighting antibodies and cells when sleep is poor.
Ever wondered why it is recommended that we sleep more when we are sick? That is because sleep can really help with healing and boosting our immune system.
If you’re skipping quality sleep and noticing that you are regularly getting sick, start to prioritize your sleep for overall health and wellness.
How to Get Better Sleep
Now that you know how sleep works and why we need quality sleep, lets talk about how to improve your sleep!
The good news is, there are many ways to improve sleep. If you are suffering from sleep problems, suffer no more by following the tips below.
Keep in mind that sleep is related to many lifestyle factors, so no one thing is going to change our sleep. However, a combination of various strategies can be immensely helpful for improving sleep overall.
Read on for the top tips for improving your sleep quality.
Power Off Devices 30-60 Minutes before Bed
You probably have heard that blue light can negatively interfere with sleep. Have you ever wondered why that is?
This is due to the production of melatonin by our circadian rhythm. When we are on a regular sleep schedule, our body operates on a typical 24-hour clock. When it is time to go to bed, the body will release melatonin, which helps promote sleepiness and helps us prepare for bed.
However, blue lights does the opposite – it tells the brain to wake up and to be alert. So, even if you are on a solid sleep schedule, the blue light can interfere with the body’s natural rhythm, which can make it hard to fall asleep at night.
So, do your best to power off all devices (phones, computers, tablets) 30 to 60 minutes before your scheduled bedtime if you can.
If you don’t have 30-60 minutes before bed, see if you can power down at least 15 to 20 minutes before you go to bed.
Create a Pre-Bedtime Buffer Zone
The buffer zone is the time directly before you go to sleep that is involved in preparing for bed. As you saw above, we want to power off devices and instead do things that will help promote sleep.
During this buffer zone, anything that relaxes the body and mind can be helpful. This can include listening to music, lighting a candle, reading a print book, engaging in deep relaxation exercises, or anything else you find relaxing.
The purpose of this buffer zone is to prepare the body for sleep.
Only go to Bed When You are Sleepy
Find yourself tossing and turning or trying to force sleep? As you have probably noticed, sleep cannot be forced. And tossing and turning is so frustrating.
So, it is very important to only get into bed once you actually are starting to feel sleepy. Signs that you are getting sleepy include body heaviness, less chatter in your mind, and heavier eyelids.
Although it can be tempting to try to force sleep, it is going to serve you much better to focus on creating the buffer zone mentioned above and to do things to promote sleep.
Once you are sleepy, then you can get into bed and be able to fall asleep much faster.
Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
The body functions best when we are on a regular sleep schedule. The circadian rhythm (our 24-hour clock) operates best when we are waking up at the same time every day.
Start by setting a consistent time to wake up every day that makes sense for your lifestyle. Then work backwards to figure out the best bedtime for you.
As mentioned above, create a buffer zone 30 to 60 minutes before this bedtime to start to promote sleepiness. However, do not get into bed until you are actually sleepy.
Try to keep this sleep schedule over the weekend. An hour or so is okay in terms of variability, but try not to oversleep on the weekends, since this can make it much harder to fall asleep for the next work week.
Use Your Bed for Sleep and Sexual Activity Only
Reading in bed, doing work, tossing and turning for hours, thinking about all of the mistakes you made– sound familiar?
We tend to do all kinds of things in bed that are not sleeping. However, this trains the mind to associate the bed with a place of activity and sometimes stress rather than sleep. This is something called conditioned insomnia.
In order to break this association, it’s important to use your bed for sleep (and sexual activity) only. This will train your brain to associate the bed with a place of sleep, which will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep much better.
If you live in a studio or have to do certain things in your room, do them off of your bed. See if you can find a corner so you can still associate the bed specifically with a place of sleep, and sleep only.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Avoid caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bedtime. Caffeine disturbs sleep and can make it hard to fall and stay asleep. Everyone has different sensitivities to caffeine, so make sure to cut off caffeine at a reasonable hour for you.
Although alcohol can promote sleepiness, it prevents us from getting into the deep sleep that is needed to feel well rested. If you are drinking, make sure to stick to the recommended daily limits of one drink for women and two drinks for men per day.
Try to consume these beverages a few hours before bed so your body has an opportunity to metabolize them. If your body is still metabolizing alcohol when you are trying to sleep, you will not get into the deeper sleep stages needed to feel well rested.
How to Get Sleep Help
Insomnia is very treatable, and the gold standard for insomnia treatment is called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
This involves 6 to 10 sessions focused on making various lifestyle, cognitive, and behavioral changes. This is a highly effective treatment for addressing insomnia, once and for all.
Talk to your primary care doctor or reach out through my contact form to address your sleep problems for good. You don’t need to suffer from sleepless nights any longer.
An excellent app that goes along with this treatment is called CBT-I coach. This is a free app that has great sleep tips that can help support your efforts to improve your sleep.
Sleep is so important for so many areas of our lives. When we are sleeping well, we are the best versions of ourselves – we are high energy, productive, happier, lower stress, and overall doing much better.
Consider why you want to improve your sleep. Is it because you want better attention? More energy? Better eating habits? Stronger immune system?
Once you decide your motivation for improving your sleep, implement the tips you saw here to start to see improvements in your sleep and your life. Sleep is something that can absolutely be improved. You do not need to suffer from tossing and turning and sleepless nights any longer!
Ready to get better and quality sleep so you can be the best version of yourself? Book a discovery call to talk more about how we can improve your sleep and take back control of your life.
Follow me on Instagram: @drjuliakogan for regular sleep tips.
----About Dr. Julia
Hi! I'm Dr. Julia. Health psychologist, stress and sleep expert, and creator of the Master Stress Method.
I have worked with thousands of individuals in major hospitals, university medical centers, and primary care settings to improve their stress levels, sleep, and overall emotional and physical well being.
My current focus is helping busy professionals prevent and manage the high stress that is getting in the way of their productivity, mood, sleep, and their ability to reach their full potential.
My 8-week, 1:1 coaching program has helped hundreds of stressed out, overwhelmed, and burned out clients significantly reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their sleep, and maximize their productivity, in just 8 short weeks.
I can't wait to help you stop the struggle with stress, for good. Let's chat :)