Remember when you were a kid, you thought and dreamt endlessly about what you would be when you grew up. You went to school and spent countless hours and potentially thousands of dollars learning and studying to prepare for the job that you now do that supports your life and your family.
If you have a traditional 9-5 job and you work 40 hours per week for 50 weeks of the year, you will spend approximately 2000 hours working. Even if you don’t have a traditional job, this is a good estimate of the amount of hours you spend at your work.
Now let’s compare this to something that you probably didn’t think all that much about in your life up until now, something that you probably don’t spend a lot of money on and something that you most certainly don’t spend much time planning for.
We spend about 1/3 of our life asleep. If you were to sleep the recommended 7-8 hours per night, you would be sleeping for between 2500 to 3000 hours per year. When we compare that to the amount of hours spent working at your job, you can see that sleep time significantly outweighs work time (or it should).
Something that takes up that much of our time must be something that is pretty important. It’s something that maybe we should spend more time thinking about, and planning for in order to be more successful at it.
‘Wait a minute, I should be aiming for success in my sleep? I’ve been doing it my whole life, shouldn’t I be good at it by now with all that practice?’
You would think so but statistics show that 30-40 percent of adults suffer from insomnia or other sleep disturbances. Even without sleep problems, over half of us don’t get enough sleep due to stressful busy lives.
With those numbers, it would seem that all of us could use a reminder lesson on the importance of, and how to get, better sleep.
Sufficient sleep should not be considered a luxury—it is a necessity—and should be thought of as an important marker of good health.
Many see sleep as a ‘passive’ activity but as you are sleeping your body is busy restoring and rejuvenating your body in many ways.
Sleep deprivation is so common in our busy stressful lives that you may not even be aware that you suffer from it. It is now well established that lack of good sleep has serious far reaching effects on your health.
Sleeping less than seven hours per night increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression.
Another risk of sleep deprivation is drowsy driving which is associated with almost 20 percent of all serious car-crash injuries.
So what can you do about it?
Sleep Hygiene: The action of implementing lifestyle changes and increasing certain behaviours to alleviate sleep troubles. Here is where you can take action to increase your level of success at this extremely important life activity that takes up more time than any other single thing you do.
When discussing sleep hygiene it is important to know that your body has a biological clock that follows a 24 hour schedule that is set by environmental cues. The most important of these cues is light (or sunlight). When it gets dark, your brain releases certain chemicals that tell your body it’s time to sleep. When it begins to get light, your brain then suppresses those chemicals and you get the signal to wake up. This why light (and the lack there of) is something that we need to take very seriously when we are trying to get the best sleep we can.
Tips for Better Daytime Habits:
-Do not nap during the day (throws off the body clock)
If you must nap make it 30min or less
-Limit caffeine and alcohol (esp within 3 hours of bedtime) Alcohol may seem to relax you but will disrupt your sleep later in the night.
-Don’t smoke (for lots of reasons….but it’s a stimulant which will keep you awake)
-Upon waking, look at bright lights or sunlight (will help to regulate your biological clock by giving you the signal to wake up)
-Add in some exercise and do so early in the day (it will help you sleep but if done too close to bedtime, will have a stimulating effect)
Tips for a Better Sleep Environment:
-Make sure your bed is large enough and comfortable and make sure you have good pillows
-Your bedroom should be for sleeping and intimacy only…no TV, No Work,
-Hide your clock. If you are awake and you keep looking at the clock, you will only stress yourself further which will hamper your attempts to go to sleep.
-Your room should be extremely dark for the best sleep. You should have no electronic devices that emit light and you should have good blinds to keep out street lights etc.
-Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees (16-20 celcius). Keeping your room cooler or hotter than this can lead to restless sleep.
Tips for a Better Sleep Ritual
-Keep a regular schedule: go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day
-Incorporate bedtime rituals: music, warm herbal tea, massage
-Relax for awhile before bedtime (meditation, breathing, warm bath or hot tub)
-Don’t eat a large heavy meal before bed
-Worry diary: write down your worries so they are not spinning in your head keeping you awake
-Go to bed when you are sleepy
-Avoid over the counter sleep aids: they interrupt quality of sleep…they shouldn’t be used long term
Tips for Shift Workers
Shift work wreaks havoc on your body because your biological clock gets so confused it can’t remember if it’s day or night or if you are supposed to be awake or asleep. Long term shift work has a negative impact on your health for this reason. If you are someone who works in a field where irregular and changing work hours are a reality, there are certain things that you can do to lessen the damaging effects to your health.
All of the tips shared above will be also relevant to shift workers longing for better sleep. The following strategies may also be helpful:
-Have Family Support. If everyone understands that mom or dad has to work different hours, certain chores or tasks can be taken on to ease the difficulty of the rotating shifts. Making sure that the house is quiet for sleep and that mom or dad is not to be disturbed unless it is an emergency will also help.
-Give your body advanced warning for the coming shift change. Begin altering your sleep schedule a few hours at a time 3 days in advance so it is closer to what it will be on the new shift.
-If you work rotating shifts, try to have your schedule work such that the next shift is later than the previous. For example, days to afternoons to nights and then back to days will give you the best rotation to sleep better and be more alert.
The other thing that is relevant for everyone struggling with sleep deprivation or sleep disturbances is to consider scheduling your sleep. We schedule everything we do in our lives from your hair appointment to your daughter’s piano lesson to an important business meeting.
Considering sleep is the activity that you do that will take up the most time in your life, you should realize that it is extremely important and make time for it.
Start planning for success in sleep and sleep will reward you with more success in your health and in your life.
Good night and good sleep J
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.