According to WebMD, in 2011 the National Sleep Foundation discovered that over 20% of Americans had less than 6 hours of sleep. The American Sleep Association revealed last year that over 100,000 deaths (due to medical errors) occurred in hospitals; sleep deprivation played a big part.
Even more troubling is the fact that we aren’t often aware of deprivation symptoms. Feeling tired during the day? Unfocused? Unwilling to get a jumpstart on crucial tasks that need to be done? You can probably attribute it to the struggle of daily living and trying to lead a good life. This condition (be it acute or chronic) severely impacts you. Here’s how:
- Your long-term and short-term memory suffers
- Concentration becomes impossible
- Severe mood swings (which may lead to depression – which can lead to suicide)
- Increased risk of hurting yourself or others (since your awareness perception plummets)
- Weight gain (because sleep deprivation damages the chemicals that tell your brain to stop eating)
Clearly, our quality of sleep can be improved. Let’s talk about how.
1. Exterminate All Thoughts
How often do you take your worries to bed? It’s in our nature to clog our minds with regrets about what we didn’t do, or overloading our brains with a tornado of “things to do” tomorrow.
To combat this, pick up a notebook and pen. Then for ~10 minutes, write down everything that is on your mind. Literally. Hold nothing back from yourself. If something is bothering you, write it down. If your mind conjures up old memories, write them down. Doing this “unclogs” your brain and empties it of everything that’s plaguing you.
2. Create Your Own World
Comfort is subjective, true. Personally, I find doing 20 kettlebell swings half an hour before getting into bed comforting and relaxing. This may exert you. So finding your own “relaxing environment” will take some trial and error.
The key lies in turning this comforting act into a pre-bed habit. Doing so tells your mind/body that it’s time to sleep. Bill Gates’ bedtime routine involves washing dishes (not kidding) and reading for an hour.
Something as simple as laying in your comfortable bed an hour before bedtime can be relaxing. Do you know which way you like to sleep? I prefer sleeping on my right side – it just “feels” right. Get into the position you like to sleep and let your comfort wash over you. This mattress is good for side sleepers who are prone to toss and turn during the night because their bed isn’t “made” for their sleeping style.
3. Document Your Life
Yes, it’s difficult—but not impossible—to keep a dedicated diary of your sleep patterns. Recording your day and night habits shows you where your weaknesses are, allowing you to find solutions for fixing them. Luckily, diaries don’t have to be elaborate. Here are a few small things you should take note of:
- The time you went to bed and woke up
- Total number of hours slept and awake
- What you did while awake (be as specific as possible)
- What food and liquids you consumed throughout the day – and the amount
- How you felt before sleeping
- Medications taken (as well as the dose and what time you took them)
While I personally was not a fan of this method at first, it has definitely helped me pinpoint several things I did during the day that disrupted my sleep. (It showed me how drinking a bottle of wine after every dinner disrupted my sleep quality.)
Sleep deprivation is different from sleep disorders, which are worth discussing with your doctor about. Despite what you have read here, remember that you are the only one who truly knows your body. Find what makes you comfortable and at ease with yourself, and build on that. Nobody can tell you what makes you feel good.