For a lot of people, trying to achieve better sleep can be difficult. Most times, they run through the day as if they’re running on a treadmill that never stops. They’re tired all the time…but they know they have to keep moving, so they turn to coffee, energy drinks, and sugary snacks for a quick boost.
Then something strange happens when they finally get to bed: they can’t fall asleep. And they wake up the next morning even more tired than the day before.
This doesn’t have to be you. You can wake up every morning excited and fully energized to take on your day. It’s as simple as turning to our ancestors for inspiration. Keep reading to find out how.
Lack of Sleep Makes It Impossible to be Healthy
If you’re trying to get in shape, you’ve probably heard the phrase “you can’t out-train a bad diet.”
The same goes for sleep. If you aren’t sleeping well, eating right and exercising aren’t enough to make up for it. You just won’t achieve the level of health you’re looking for without that pillar in place.
Not getting enough sleep is a lot like credit card debt. It isn’t a big deal at first, but the consequences add up.
Sleep remains a mystery, but every new piece of sleep research points to the same conclusion: it’s just as important as a good diet and exercise for health. Maybe even more important.
Why Is It so Hard to Get a Good Night’s Sleep?
So, sleep is essential for our health…but most of us aren’t getting nearly enough of it. About 1 in 3 of American adults are sleeping less than six hours per night. And almost half of them say that feeling tired during the day interferes with their normal activities.
This isn’t for a lack of trying either. Most people know how important sleep is. But a lot of aspects of modern life are stacking the deck against getting the sleep we need.
After the sun went down, our ancestors didn’t have a choice other than to relax and get ready to sleep. But now the dark is something we have to search for intentionally. There are artificial lights everywhere… and plenty of digital distractions tempting us to stay up for “just one more hour.”
4 Ways to Get Better Sleep
Understanding the importance of sleep is one thing. But taking action—action that leaves you waking up in the morning full of energy—is easier said than done.
Most of us are tired of being tired. The sleep industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and it’s booming on the backs of empty promises and “get results fast” schemes.
You deserve more than that. Just like a diet pill doesn’t trump eating healthy foods, sleeping pills don’t trump proper sleeping habits.
The four steps below are simple. Following them might take a change in philosophy or a recommitment to a healthier life. But they will help you sleep more and sleep better. Each waking moment becomes more special when you have the energy to enjoy it fully.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Make It a Priority
Why are so many people sleeping five or six hours a day when they know they should be sleeping seven or eight?
Because most of them aren’t making sleep a priority. Extraordinary circumstances – like a newborn or working for an accounting firm in tax season – aside, most people simply aren’t giving themselves enough time to sleep. They’re choosing other things instead.
Wishing for more time won’t help. But setting aside seven or eight hours for sleep and figuring out how to maximize the rest of your time will. There’s a reason why this is step one. Without making sleep a priority, your other efforts won’t pay off. It’s the cornerstone that makes feeling energized and well-rested possible.
One of the most powerful things you can do for your productivity and wellbeing is to set a firm bedtime and stick to it. Almost everything else — what you do in your free time, whether every dish gets washed that night, etc. — is flexible. But sleep isn’t.
Setting a bedtime lets you work backwards to figure out how you’ll fit in your other activities. And going to bed at the same time every night helps you fall asleep faster because it conditions your body to expect sleep then. Tasks during the day will take less time because you’ll engage them sharp and well rested.
2. Practice Good “Sleep Hygiene”
How clean is your sleep environment?
I’m not talking about the carpet in your bedroom or your cluttered nightstand. I’m talking about how conducive your environment is for deep, uninterrupted sleep.
Modern innovations like streetlights, televisions, and car alarms are great. But they can make getting quality sleep tough. Just like how toxic waste pollutes a river, sights and sounds can “pollute” your bedroom and disrupt your sleep.
A few simple adjustments can make a tremendous difference when it comes to your sleep quality. They’ll help you fall asleep faster… and stay asleep throughout the night.
The most important thing is for your bedroom to be completely dark. The darker, the better! Invest in some black out curtains to block out sunlight and ambient streetlight. And watch out for electronics with digital displays. Either store those in another room or cover up the lights with electrical tape. Even better: use a sleep mask to block out all the stray light trying to poke its way into your bedroom.
If your partner snores, or if you’re tired of hearing the garbage truck at four in the morning, pick up a pair of earplugs you can wear while you sleep. You can also use a white noise machine to cover up any intrusive noises.
Room temperature can also make a big impact on your sleep quality. Scientists have found that a cool room—around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit—leads to better sleep. So give that a try. But ultimately it’s about comfort; go for whatever temperature feels best to you.
3. Work with Your Natural Sleep-Wake Cycle, Not Against It
Two hormones govern your sleep-wake cycle: cortisol and melatonin.
Cortisol stimulates your body to wake up and stay alert. Exposure to light encourages your body to produce it. When it gets dark your body starts ramping up production of melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy.
This worked just fine for our ancestors; they were active during the day, and they rested as soon as it got dark. But now electricity has extended the day with artificial light, and practically no one goes to bed right after the sun goes down.
That’s okay. There’s no need to go to bed at 7 or 8 pm. Just a little awareness of how your natural sleep-wake cycle works can help you get more (and better) sleep.
Sometimes your body has a hard time distinguishing between natural and artificial light.
Blue light is especially disruptive to healthy sleep patterns.
You can work with your natural sleep-wake cycle by encouraging cortisol production when you want to be awake and melatonin production when you’re getting ready for bed.
This means seeking out light when you’re trying to wake up and avoiding it when your bedtime is just around the corner. A few ways you can do it:
- Avoid all electronics for 1-2 hours before bed (lamplight and light bulbs are fine)
- Go outside during the day
- Consider buying a sun alarm clock, which floods your bedroom with light in a way that mimics a sunrise
4. Manage Your Stress
Managing your stress might seem like a completely different topic than sleep. But they’re two sides of the same coin.
Cortisol is the common factor here. When you don’t manage stress, the cortisol levels in your body increase. And cortisol is a stimulant; it’s the exact opposite of what you need to relax and go to sleep.
So unmanaged stress leads to less sleep and lower-quality sleep. And that leads to even more chronic stress. It can become a vicious cycle.
Of every source of stress in your life, start by identifying which ones are self-inflicted. If you aren’t eating well, or if you’re working out too much, you’re causing yourself unnecessary stress. Systematically eliminate everything that’s causing you stress and is under your control.
You won’t be able to remove it all. There are always jobs, relationships, and other drama to deal with. But that’s fine. You just need a consistent way to manage the stressors that are out of your control. Pick something you love doing — it could be reading, painting, yoga, or something completely different — and stick to it.
A two-pronged attack on stress — removing stressors in your control and managing the rest — will lower cortisol levels and help you sleep better. And quality sleep will make you even less stressed. A potentially bad cycle becomes a good one.
A lot of people give nutrition and exercise plenty of attention, but they let sleep fall through the cracks. They’re tired all the time… despite all their hard work to be healthy.
But you can do better.
Follow these four simple steps, and you’ll be well on your way to sleeping more, sleeping better, and enjoying life to its fullest.
No espresso shots needed.
What’s your biggest obstacle keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep? Leave a comment below and let me know!
(Read This Next: 7 Ways Sleep Deprivation Wrecks Your Brain)