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There’s no way around it, we were made to sleep! So how much is enough? Well, that depends on the individual, but a jumping-off point is 8 hours. There’s a reason it’s been consistently touted as being the average because it turns out that the vast majority of people need at least 8 hours. So, what does that look like? Well for the best sleep of your life you should be planning on going to bed at roughly the same time every night and getting up at roughly the same time every morning. If you’re someone who has struggled with insomnia and chronically poor sleep, a consistent routine is a must.
While sleep is something that happens daily and would seemingly be the most natural thing in the world, it turns out that it’s more of a behavior akin to going to the gym. We have to train our brains to fall and stay asleep. You have powerful instinctual machinery working against you if you have anxiety or depression, as your brain is hardwired to pay attention to every noise it thinks it’s a matter of survival. A critical aspect of sleeping consistently and fully is sleep hygiene. In addition to a consistent bedtime that’s at least 7 hours (ideally 8), sleep hygiene incorporates limiting screen time and preparing a small ritual to get ready for bed.
What does this look like for most people? Reducing screen time including television, phone, and computer to within one to two hours of going to bed, being in soft lighting, and sleep-promoting behaviors such as a warm meal, a warm herbal Cup of tea, a warm shower or bath, or slipping into some cozy pajamas and reading for a while until sleep comes naturally. More and more evidence is showing a runaway cycle if you spend too much time in bed worrying about not sleeping. It turns out that anxiety about not falling asleep while you’re in bed tends to make the situation worse. If you’re struggling in the beginning stages to find a consistent bedtime, it’s better to read or do some other activity that is low cognitive impact, doesn’t involve a screen, and wait for the sleepiness to arrive.
Temperature regulation is also critical for effective sleep and recommendations are to have your bedroom be less than 73 degrees (65 degrees is optimal). If you’re a hot sleeper you may have to adjust the number of covers or pajamas you wear in bed. And what of alcohol or marijuana? Well, in small doses they typically are fine, but it does not take very much before it starts to disrupt your sleep architecture. Either one of these substances can impact your overall sleep even if it feels like you’re sleeping for 8 hours, leading to daytime fatigue and napping which then further reinforces being off the circadian rhythm. And exercise? For most the elevation in blood pressure and pulse are counterproductive to falling asleep and it’s recommended that you not exercise within three hours of going to bed.
There is one condition to be aware of and that’s sleep apnea. Millions of people suffer from this very common condition and it certainly has effects on sleep. What is it? Well either through weight or muscle relaxation in the back of the throat, it causes a restricted airway with poor oxygenation and less expansion of the lungs. This usually isn’t enough to make someone fully wake up but disrupts sleep architecture with micro-waking. If you find that you’re falling asleep consistently during the day and especially if your partner notes that you snore, this may be an issue and should be discussed with your primary care physician.
Here is a link to a tongue-in-cheek approach to sleep hygiene from an MD YouTuber. His recommendations are spot-on and echoed here.
Another factor in falling asleep is white noise or soothing speech/music. There are many free white noise apps that are readily downloadable for your phone or tablet. Alternatively, you can easily find a white noise machine on Amazon for $15-30.
There are also apps that include soothing readings at bedtime or voices to lull to sleep. Headspace is a common app.
Another intriguing idea is binaural beats which are beats/music that let the brain fall into specific wavelengths that are conducive to meditation, focus, or in this case, falling asleep. Here is a link to a YouTube video with binaural beats specifically for sleep. These are just a few videos and there are many online so feel free to explore!
Author Dr. Jon Doctor, Entrepreneur, Founder of Dr. Jon Deam