“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” Whether you’re staying up late to have fun, pulling an all-nighter to prepare for a big test or presentation, or you just simply aren’t making time for the magic 7-9 hours everyone requires, we have all, at some point in time, put sleep on the back burner. However, recent scientific studies have revealed that the “sleeping when you’re dead” thing? It's not so far from the truth... unhealthy sleep habits are tied to mortality. The good news is, as alarmingly bad for you as not sleeping is, getting the sleep your body needs makes your body function that much better. In fact, we would even argue that sleep is your very own superpower.
What’s great for the body and mind, improving concentration, helping us fight illnesses, and significantly reducing our risk for disease - even mortality in general?
Ever stayed up all night cramming for a big test? Turns out, that was a waste of time.
Science tells us that our brains are like sponges. A well-rested brain functions as a dry sponge, ready to soak up information. A solid night of sleep hits the “save” button on all the new information we have learned, moving it from a short-term part of the brain to a permanent reservoir.
An unrested brain functions like a wet sponge, too laden to easily absorb the new information. Then, to make matters worse, another sleep-lacking night doesn’t allow the deep sleep brainwaves to hit “save” on what you did manage to retain.
This idea applies to our memory more practically than just learning new things. As we age, learning and memory abilities begin to decline. Can you guess what else follows this pattern? Our quality and quantity of deep sleep.
Sounds a little ominous. But really, it’s quite the opposite. All we need to do is get the proper amount of sleep! But what is the right amount exactly? And how can we achieve it?
When we get less than 7 hours of sleep, our immune system is compromised. Here is where the superpower part really comes into play...
Our bodies fight off illness with what we call, Natural Killer Cells. They are essentially the secret service agents of our immune systems - good at identifying dangerous elements and even better at destroying them (and they LOVE sleep!).
In a study where sleep was restricted to 4 hours a night, these cells dropped their activity by 70%. Even when sleep was restricted just to 6 hours a night, there were huge changes in immune system function, turning off many of these immune assassins while tumor-promoting, inflammation, and stress genes were doing double time.
Conversely, sleeping more than 9 hours isn’t good for you either. Think of your body’s function on sleep as a “U” shape. The bottom of the U is the 7-9 hour mark, everything is functioning properly. Getting too much or too little sleep puts your body onto the sides of the U, where function is not optimal.
Image Credit: sleepresolutions.com
Ready to activate your superpower? Let’s talk about how to get better sleep.
Getting Better Sleep
Go to bed and wake up at the same time, no matter the day. It can be useful to set a “time for bed” alarm to keep you consistent.
Keep it Cool
Good news for your electric bill! The body’s core temperature needs to drop between 2-3 degrees in order for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
65F is optimal for most people
Darkness signals to our bodies that it’s time to release melatonin, which is a critical sleep hormone. Start telling your body that it’s time to sleep soon by doing any or all of the following...
Dimming lights in your home an hour before bedtime
Avoid using screens at least 20 minutes before bed
Wear an eye mask to block out unwanted light
Put blackout shades on your windows to prevent light from waking you before you’ve gotten your 7-9 hours
Wind Down Routine
Falling asleep is a bit like landing a plane - both take a little time to touchdown.
Do something relaxing last 20 mins before bed (NOT screen-related, we know it’s tempting!) and make it a nightly routine. This is a great opportunity to take up an interest you’ve been considering - read a book, meditate, journal, do a puzzle, knit, you get the idea!
So you’ve followed all the recommendations, you’re laying in bed with your eye mask on, ready to get your 8 hours and you just cannot sleep. Now what?
Check the clock. If you find yourself tossing and turning for 25 minutes, or wake up and can’t get back to sleep again in that time period, go into another room and do something else. Return to bed once you feel sleepy. This advice might seem a little strange, but what you are doing is retraining your brain. Right now, your brain associates laying in bed with wakefulness. By returning to bed only when you’re feeling sleepy, you can alter that association.
Think of it this way, would you go sit at the dinner table and wait to get hungry?
We hope you feel inspired to take a look at your sleep habits and make adjustments accordingly! (Eye masks are the latest fashion are they not?)
And above all, we hope you sleep well!