Sleep and its importance to physical and mental wellbeing has been everywhere lately—in the news, work wellness programs, at the doctor’s office. Pretty much everywhere but in most people’s beds.
Research indicates you need to have five to six full sleep cycles to allow your body the time it needs to heal itself and prepare for another day. Each sleep cycle is about one and a half hours long, so most adults need seven and a half to nine hours per day.
We hear a lot about what happens when we don’t get sleep: impaired memory and focus, decreased immune response, increased depression, increase for diabetes, heart attack and cancer. . . .
Most of the information out there on how to get good sleep caters to “normal” people. You know, the folks who have nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday jobs, eat perfectly, go to bed at 9:00 p.m. and rise at 5:30 a.m. with the bluebirds. Hey, if that is you, awesome! I continue to strive to make my life run that way, but in the meantime, for myself and everyone else, I have pulled together nine life hacks to help you get optimal sleep for your less-than-optimal lifestyle.
1. Set the Mood
Light kicks your body into gear. Darkness helps your body relax and get in the mood—for sleeping. It is a must to get your sleeping space as dark as possible. This can be tough when you are sleeping during the day or even the night when you live in the North like I do—it is June, and the sun doesn’t go down until 10:30 p.m.
When you are working, make your work space as bright as possible to help you stay alert and start to decrease light as you are headed home. But when you want to sleep, blackout curtains are a must! If you are a truck driver, there are ones you can order online designed for trucks. If you travel a lot for work, with a varying schedule like mine, most hotels have blackout curtains, but I always pack a sleeping mask just in case.
2. Crank It down—or Up
Sounds can disrupt your ability to get into and stay in REM—the deep sleep that helps your body and brain work properly—long enough to help restore your body. For most people, noise is a barrier to good sleep.
In a perfect world, we would have perfect lighting and perfect sound in our sleeping space, but since we do not live in a perfect world, we have earplugs. For those who prefer noise to fall asleep by (I grew up by a country highway, so for years I needed the sound of big rigs and crickets to go to sleep—weird I know), there are great white noise apps that let you choose your noise of choice.
3. Get in Touch with Nature
When you wake up for the day, get outside and get some sunlight. It will help your body get itself ready for a new day. It also helps regulate sleep cycles.
4. Limit Caffeine
This is probably a no brainer, but cut the caffeine—yes, even chocolate—out four to six hours before you plan to sleep. Caffeine makes it difficult to fall asleep and achieve REM once you do.
5. Just Say No
I like a good glass or wine as much as the next person, but alcohol, especially within several hours of sleeping, interferes with your REM sleep. If you want to drink, your best bet is to save it for days off.
6. Work around the Clock
If you have rotating start times for shift starts, try to work with your scheduler to have a rotation that moves forward not backward. It is easier for your body to adjust to the new times in the future, harder for it to adjust backward.
7. Get a Manservant
Make sleep a priority after work. If you need to get help with household chores, do so. If there is no one to help—and you can’t afford the manservant—then sleep first and do your errands, chores, and check email/Facebook later.
Scheduling yourself this way will allow you to get the maximum amount of sleep time you need. It is too easy to check Facebook “quickly” and then look up and notice you only have four hours to get sleep, get up, and get to work.
8. Screen Time
Turn off all your electronics at least an hour before going to bed. For those of you who just can’t part with the screen before bed, then put apps on your devices that filter the blue light, which is what triggers your brain to not sleep. If apps aren’t your thing, you can get blue light filtering sunglasses that do the same thing.
9. Be a Party Pooper
One of the most difficult things for me when I work nontraditional hours is that it is hard to have a social life. Your best bet is to keep social time to your days off or after you wake up for the day, rather than trying to fit it in before bed.
No one likes to say no to family and friends, but remember your health is important too. If you must attend something after work, try to keep it as short as possible so you can get to bed.
A number of apps to help you sleep better are available for your phone or tablet. The following apps are designed to monitor your sleep and help you wake at the best part of your sleep cycle.
- Sleep Cycle
- Sleep Genius
The following apps provide options for white noise.
- White Noise
- Chroma Doz
- Sleep Fan
Want to know when to go to bed to get the right amount of sleep cycles in per night? Check out sleepyti.me. It’s also available in a mobile version.
For more ways to get perfect sleep in a less-than-perfect world, check out Shawn Stevenson’s book Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success.