How much attention have you given to the area of your life that comprises about a third of your total time on this planet? Although you may not be conscious during that time, your sleep is nonetheless an area of self-improvement worth taking seriously. It is arguably the most important component of your day for improving stress, mental health, and productivity. Let’s talk about optimizing sleep for your own well-being.
The importance of sleep
One study involving surgeons found that sleep-deprivation increased task completion time by 14% and caused 20% more errors when compared to well-rested individuals. Cutting back on sleep can have a pernicious negative feedback loop whereby the mind becomes less efficient as it gets tired, causing working hours to extend and thereby leaving less time for the mind to rest up.
Our society seems to place very little value on sleep, and individuals constantly brag about their ability to go long periods without it (often deeming sleep as a sign of laziness). But in fact, sleep ought to be seen as a key aspect of self-care and productivity.
As new research comes out shedding light on the crucial biological processes carried out during sleep, it has become clear that we should be paying much more attention to the amount and quality of our time on the pillow. Lack of sleep harms our memory, immune systems, hormone levels (include testosterone), and virtually every other aspect of health and lifestyle that we care about. In the interest of time, many people are cutting out the most powerful healing force of nature. Ironically, sleeping less also shortens your lifespan, actually reducing your overall time on this planet.
Quality of sleep
Not only do we seem to be sleeping less, but also the quality of our sleep seems to be eroding. The problem is that we’re sleeping very differently than our ancestors did. With the advent of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, blue LEDs and city noise, we have lopped off about 20% of the sleep that is required. A large portion of our society walks around as constant zombies, existing with sub-optimal cognitive functioning as a result of poor sleep management.
The prescription for lack of sleep quantity and quality entails good sleep hygiene. It’s like brushing your teeth, but 10 times more important.
A good night’s sleep can make all the difference between optimal and abysmal mental health and productivity. Here are some healthy habits that can have you feeling refreshed each morning:
– Light: Your body bases its sleep rhythm largely upon your exposure to light. Try making your room as dark as possible by implementing blackout curtains. Also, avoiding electronics before bed is essential because screens will suppress melatonin production (a chemical produced in your brain that signals your body that it’s time to begin the sleep process).
- Drugs: Avoid tobacco and alcohol, which suppress REM sleep.
- Routine: Establish a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Your room temperature ought to remain around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) and taking a hot shower before bed will help your body get into a good rhythm. A change in body temperature helps signal to your internal system that it’s time to sleep. This makes sense evolutionarily since the environment would’ve naturally grown cooler as the sun went down.
- Shutting Down: Try journaling your thoughts before bed, reading fiction (thought to help the narrating mind get into dream-mode more quickly), and meditating.
Sleep is your personal gift to your mind and body. By using these habits and optimizing sleep habits, you’ll feel much more ready to tackle the day’s challenges. Your mind-body system will repay the favor with more vitality and acuity!
About the Author
Liam McClintock studied Psychology at Yale and became certified as a YTT Meditation Teacher. He now runs a meditation training company, FitMind, in Colorado.