Proper rest and recovery is essential to health- physical, mental and emotional.
Science still doesn’t know exactly why we need to sleep, but the consequences of sleep deprivation are well documented- everything from weight gain, and dull skin and eyes, to depression and even psychosis!
But how much sleep do you need? And how do you get enough?
The average person needs about 8 hours of sleep. But that will vary for each individual and change over the course of the year. The best way to find out how much sleep you need is to go to sleep at a set time and allow yourself to wake naturally, without an alarm clock. After 4-6 days your body will have found it’s natural rhythm. If that’s not an option (I started work between 4:30 and 6am for years! I totally get it!) Try working backwards from the time you need to wake up- be in bed, lights out 7 hours before you need to wake for 2-3 days, then move your bed time ahead by half an hour each 2-3 days until you wake feeling refreshed. Then pat yourself on the back for using science in your daily life, you are your own most valuable experiment.
There are very very rare cases of people who only need 4-5 hours of sleep; if you don’t already know this about yourself, it probably isn’t you! Get some sleep!
Okay, so now you have a better idea of how much sleep You need. How do we make sure it’s quality sleep?
Our sleep is controlled by our circadian rhythm, which just means our body wants to sleep when it’s dark and be awake when it’s light. (You may discover you need more sleep in the winter and slightly less in the summer!) But in our modern world its extremely hard to obey the sun, what with our fancy indoor lighting and the bright screens in each of our pockets.
My number one piece of “get a good nights rest” advice? Digital Sunset. Pick a time 1-2 hours before you plan to sleep and turn off all your screens- TV, Phone, Computer, Gaming Systems- just turn them off. I found I had to set a child lock after 9pm on my handheld devices to encourage myself not to sneak “just one more” email or Instagram check! But after a few weeks, not only did I not miss the screens, I began to cherish that time.
Turns out, its not just kids that like bedtime rituals!
Use that new screen free time to set yourself up for the next day. Empty the sink so you start the day without a chore to do, read a few pages of a paper book- now you’re on your way toward that book a month goal!, clear your mind by doing 5 minutes of free writing, or keep a gratitude journal, set your priorities for the next day (more on that to come!), lay out your clothes for tomorrow. Having spent a few minutes winding down from this day and preparing for the next, your mind will be clearer and more peaceful, giving you a much better chance of getting restful sleep.
But how about where you sleep? Is it ready for you?
A cool, dark room with a comfortable bed is all you need. And I do mean all! We already turned the screens off, so get them out of the bedroom! Let your bedroom be a place for sleeping and connecting with a partner and let that be all. When you get in there you’re now far more likely to be able to sleep because your body is already cued that this is the place where you sleep. Get a nice heavy pair of curtains, or blinds, shutters if you live in an adorable New England Cottage and make it dark! Bonus- that darkness will help keep the room cool, which in turn will help you sleep. The body wants a mini hibernation ever day- so make like a bear and head into your cool dark cave for some shut eye.
Life happens. Kids wake you up early, date night shows keep you out late, bosses expect you to be on call 24 hours a day. It’s hard to carve out time for yourself. But creating an evening ritual and honoring what your body needs will help keep you energized, resilient and happy. You are the most important person you have to take care of- put that oxygen mask on your face before you put it on someone else’s.
Are you ready to try a sleep experiment? Let me know how it goes!