A good night’s sleep can help improve your mood, increase mental clarity and creativity, boost performance, and aid in weight loss. But we likely don’t need to sell you on the benefits of sleep—after all, no one likes walking around in a daze and running on fumes.
But if you’re like most adults, you’re starved for sleep (only 63 percent get the recommended eight hours per night). What you could use is a refresher course in how to fall asleep fast and easy and wake up feeling like new. Use the tips below to sleep easy, sleep longer, and wake up ready to take on your day.
Sleep by the Numbers
The increased likelihood that someone will be overweight if they keep different weekday and weekend hours.
The number of sleep-deprived Americans.
The amount of money in lost productivity yearly as a result of sleeplessness.
Researchers found that getting less than six hours of sleep a night can increase your stroke risk.
The number of estimated car crashes linked to drowsiness.
The estimated number of death annually linked to drowsiness.
How Sleep Benefits Your Body
Sleep boosts brainpower.
Having a problem? Sleep on it. A good night’s sleep will allow your brain to think peaceful, which may help you solve your problem. How it works: During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a stage of deep sleep associated with dreaming, your brain works to solve problems by boosting creative thinking—possibly by forming new communication pathways in the brain—according to sleep scientists at the University of California, San Diego.
Sleep improves performance.
The night before a big race or event, a good night’s sleep is essential. Not only does it allow you to wake up with a clear head and better focus, it can also improve your performance. Stanford University researchers found that extra sleep increases basketball player’s speed and free-throw accuracy, and improves reaction time off the starting blocks, increases kick strokes, and improved overall speed by .51 seconds. And it can help you, too, by improving your reaction time for your favourite sport, professional or recreational.
Sleep aids in weight loss.
Going to bed early can help you control your appetite. Researchers at Northwestern University found that people who went to bed late ate more calories after 8 p.m. than people who went to bed earlier. They also ate fewer fruits and vegetables, had higher BMIs, and frequented the drive-thru. How it works: When you’re tired, grehlin (the hormone that regulates hunger) rises while leptin (the hormone that regulates satiety) decreases. So even if you eat, you may still feel hungry and unsatisfied when you’re sleepy. Not getting enough sleep also decreases basal metabolic rate, which means that your body actually needs fewer calories. So at this point, you’re storing more calories as fat.
8 Keys to a Good Night's Sleep
Half the trouble with getting enough sleep is actually falling asleep. If you find that you’re not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, use the tips below to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
1. Lower your thermostat. Dropping the thermostat in your house to between 65 and 72 degrees has been shown to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. While these temperatures are the typical recommendations, you may need to experiment and find what temperature helps you sleep best.
2. Be in bed by 10 p.m. Research has shown that sleeping from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. is optimal for physical and psychological recovery, and it's been linked to healthier eating habits. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day will help you create a routine and regulate your sleep patterns. To fall asleep faster, try calming activities before bed—drink herbal tea, stretch, meditate, or read (no reading the news before bedtime).
3. Breathe yourself to sleep. Using a breathing technique drawn from pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that basically means “regulation of breath,” you can tame your heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, and more. It can also help you fall asleep. When you lie down for the night follow this breathing pattern: (1) inhale through your nose for 6 counts, (2) hold for 3 counts, (3) exhale through your nose for 6 counts, (4) hold for 3 counts, (5) repeat this series 4 more times. Learn more about breathing yourself to sleep >
4. Avoid too much caffeine. You don't have to give up your morning cup of Joe, but drinking caffeine-heavy drinks at night can affect your sleep. Caffeine increase catecholamines, hormones that increase energy, heart rate, and blood vessel constriction, and prepare your body to respond to any challenge. While everyone's body reacts differently to caffeine, it's recommended that you stop drinking coffee about six hours before bed (for some as little as four hours and for others as much as eight hours).
5. Unplug your electronics. Keep all electronics (phone, computer, TV, iPad, etc.) in another room. Having them in your bedroom keeps your brain active and can affect sleep. Using your bedroom for sleeping only will help your body and your brain calm down at night.
6. Skip your nightcap. Downing a drink or two before bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. It also impacts REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep cycles, which account for 25 percent of your total sleep time. This is when your brain activity and heart rate rises, you breathe erratically, and you commit things to long-term memory. If you don't spend enough time in this critical sleep cycle, you could wake up exhausted.
7. Make time for the gym. Spend 30 minutes in the morning or afternoon working out. It can help you fall asleep faster at night. If you like to exercise later in the day, give yourself at least six hours, if you can, between working out and bedtime. Your body will be stimulated from exercising, so this gives it a chance to wind down before you sleep.
8. Make a doctor's appointment. If you're still fighting sleep after trying all the tips above, talk to your doctor. Unpredictable sleep patterns and lack of sleep can lower your immunity and impact both your mental and physical health.
The Power of Napping
While you can’t make up for lost sleep, taking a nap after an all-nighter or a night of tossing and turning can help clear your mind and improve creativity. Use these seven tips to get a better power nap today:
1. Limit your nap to 20 minutes or less. Longer naps tend to create sleep inertia (a period of lethargy, poor mood, and decreased alertness following the nap) and to reduce the effectiveness of evening sleeping, where the deeper stages of sleep occur.
2. Avoid getting in bed. Snuggling up in your cozy bed will make it harder for you to limit your nap to the recommended 20 minutes, plus you may start to associate your bed with napping instead of sleeping at night.
3. Don't worry if you don't fall asleep. Just closing your eyes and relaxing will be refreshing.
4. Urinate before you settle in. Sounds crazy, but it helps.
5. Find a quiet dark place and close the door so you will not be disturbed.
6. Set a timer so you don't stress about oversleeping. Listen to some quiet relaxing music to drown out the outside noise.
Practice clearing your thoughts and focusing on your breathing. Read “Napping the Month Away,” to find out how writer Joe Kita spent a month napping and what he learned from it.
Can You Make Up for Lost Sleep?
While many people believe that sleeping in can help you make up for lost sleep, the truth is you can’t. One restful night's sleep can leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated, but all those nights of missed sleep have a negative effect over time. If you can, try to work a daily nap into your routine; a quick snooze of 25 to 30 minutes is a great way to rejuvenate yourself. Obviously, this nap is less than a 90-minute sleep cycle. You'll awaken before you reach that deep sleep, and essentially trick your body into thinking it woke up from a full 90-minute REM cycle.
Sleep Tips for Shift Workers
While working the night shift may just be part of your job if you’re a nurse, security guard, or work in other shift-work environments, taking the overnight shifts can take a real toll on your health, including an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and suffering a heart attack. Previous research has shown that people who work overnight shifts are also more likely to be overweight and have high insulin levels and inflammation. To stay healthy on the night shift, use these tips:
1. Eat on a schedule. Sleep deprivation disturbs your appetite, which leads to increased feelings of hunger and weight gain. Eat dinner before starting your shift, and snack every two to three hours during it to stay focused and energized. This way you won't be tempted to eat a heavy meal at the end of your shift.
2. Take naps. The average person needs about eight hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. If you can't sleep for that long in one stretch after work, try to take naps during the day that add up to the recommended eight hours. Before you dismiss the idea of napping, check out our 10-part series on the latest advances in nap technology and simple tips to add a nap to your day.
3. Skip energy drinks. Downing energy drinks to stay awake will only make you crash harder later, plus they're filled with extreme levels of caffeine and other ingredients that can negatively affect your health. Drink tea and coffee for a natural caffeine kick, and drink plenty of water.
4. Set up a proper sleep environment. The right environment can help you sleep longer and sounder. Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible by blocking out sunlight with blackout curtains or using an eye mask to shade your eyes. Mute street noise with ear plugs or a white noise machine.
5. Opt for more steady rotations. When signing up for shifts, see if you can work a steady rotation for several weeks at a time instead of changing every week. This will help you create a more stable pattern and avoid changing your working, sleeping, and eating patterns multiple times a month.