Behind water, sleep may be our bodies most vital need.
Sleep is responsible for restoration, memory consolidation, and metabolic health among many other functions.
Needless to say, better sleep is critical to our mental and physical well being.
While there are wide ranging opinions when it comes to things like
How much sleep do I need?
What time should I go to bed/wake up?
What constitutes restful sleep?
The following principles are what I consider to be foundational to getting not only enough sleep, but the right kind of sleep.
Adults NEED between 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Sleep deprivation has HUGE consequences. The tricky part of sleep deprivation is that its EXTREMELY hard to detect. Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause rapid onset of metabolic diseases like diabetes – as speedily as 1 week of less than six hours of sleep a night can cause insulin resistance bordering on type 2 diabetes.
The thing is, sleep debt is cumulative. Weeks, months, and years of getting less than the ideal amount of sleep builds up and creates long term consequences – poor performance, metabolic derangement, cognitive issues.
To combat sleep debt it’s important to have a regular target for sleep – prepare in advance for how you will get your 8 hours in bed leading to 7 hours of sleep. Do this by setting a routine bed time, routine waking time, and eliminating distractions that will trick you into thinking that because you’re in bed for 8 hours you actually got 8 hours of sleep (when in fact you stayed awake watching tv for 3 hours).
Your Circadian Rhythm Matters
We are hardwired after tens of thousands of years of evolution to work around a very sophisticated biological clock, also called our Circadian Rhythm. Without going too deep into the complexities, our circadian Rhythm triggers based on light and dark.
Circadian Rhythm regulates when we feel tired, adjustments in our body temperature, and what times of day we function best physically. Our modern lifestyle has us constantly fighting these essential parts of our biology – often times so that even if we have a GOOD sleep routine, we are not actually getting good quality sleep.
While ideal bed times will be different person to person, it’s essential that we optimize our sleep quality by doing the following:
- Eliminating artificial light – artificial light screws with our circadian rhythm, telling our brain and body that it is still day time when it is in fact night time.
- Eliminating artificial noise – turn off the TV. Turn off sounds that are not part of nature – these trigger our fight or flight response and affect our sleep depth.
- Sleep until you’re rested – and if you are not waking up rested, reverse engineer your bed time and bedtime routine so that you wake up rested. Don’t wish your way to ideal rest…
Ideal temperature supports ideal sleep. Most people sleep best in a cold room – typically somewhere between 65-70 degrees.
It’s true that a drink before bed can produce a calming effect that helps us “ease” into sleep. The problem is that Alcohol actually reduces the quality and duration of our REM sleep – so while we may fall asleep faster, we are trading that for poorer quality sleep. We have all felt this in the effect of a hangover despite having slept 8+ hours off an alcohol fueled bed time. Optimize your sleep by reducing or removing alcohol before bedtime (especially sugary drinks – those have the added effect of screwing with your insulin levels in addition to screwing with your REM cycles) and finding other methods to ease your way to sleep.
There are certainly other factors that can improve our sleep – including more outdoor time, exercise, what we eat, and when we eat. Hopefully starting with the above gives you a baseline understanding of how sleep works and the meta level factors that effect quality and quantity.
Some recommended reading:
For a quick overview
For a more in depth dive into the subject.