You can improve your life dramatically in multiple areas with nearly instantaneous results by change just one thing. I’m talking about enhancing your energy level, boosting your fat-burning metabolic rate, supercharging mental creativity, extending patience with others, broadening your sense of humor, making it easier to be more spiritually holy–even increasing your memory capacity.
One change can literally do all that–and a bit more. I’m completely serious.
All of these elements of your life depend on the quality and quantity of your sleep. Change how you handle that part of your day and you will instantaneously change your life.
Certainly, there’s more to being creative or being patient with others, for example, than just sleep. But your sleep does set a ceiling for all these areas. Think about it.
When you are thoroughly exhausted, it’s very hard to do life well. But it goes beyond that. Many, many of us have forgotten what being truly rested feels like. The vast majority of us have trained ourselves to expect a life lived with less sleep than we actually required. In fact, it only takes about 2-3 weeks of consistent living to cause your brain to settle on a new “normal”. It will then stop complaining about the sleep it’s missing. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need that sleep. It just learns to stop complaining about it–to stop sending the signals that demand more sleep or else.
(Our brains are phenomenally adaptive. We underestimate this capacity in so many ways–but that’s a whole other post or two.)
Scientists have done many sleep studies that put volunteers in a room without windows, clocks, watches, etc. They are provided with entertainments, food, etc–just nothing that let’s them know what time it is. The idea is to see how people sleep when the only boundaries come from their body. Among the many things learned, every single participant says at the end, “I had no idea what it was like to truly feel rested! I haven’t felt this good in a very long time.”
How much of life are you missing out on? How long has is been since you fully and deeply slept? When did you train your body to stop complaining and tough it out?
WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP–QUICK OPTIONS
Buy a better bed. Seriously. You spend more time on your bed than anywhere else in your life. It doesn’t seem that way since you’re mostly unconscious while you’re there. But it’s the most used and most important furniture or appliance item in your house. As one of my mentors says, “Buy the most expensive bed your conscience will allow you to buy.” It’s worth it.
By the way, there are some really great ways to avoid paying full price on name brand beds, but still upgrading your sleep dramatically. For example, you could put a memory foam bed topper on your normal mattress instead of buying a new memory foam bed ($170 instead of $1,500).
Sleep more. Many people talk about 8 hours of sleep as ideal. But sleep studies show that the ideal length of sleep for 95% of people is just over 9 hours of sleep. Oh, and studies also reveal that sleep loss is cumulative. So if you miss a few hours here and there, you can literally catch up by sleeping a few hours longer on the weekend.
Of course, if you wait too long–2 to 3 weeks for most people–your brain gives up trying to recover and creates a new normal. For some of you, it may take you 2-3 weeks to retrain your brain to get used to sleeping properly. That was also in all the sleep studies–everyone goes through a readjustment period where they slowly learn to sleep a full night again.
Studies of school children showed that for every 15 min of extra sleep, on average, those students earned a grade letter higher. Some high schools in America have are now starting an hour later (expressly to give their kids more sleep) and have seen overall grades jump . Even thirty minutes more sleep will make a difference in your life.
But I don’t have time to sleep more! I’ve got too much to do! (Sound familiar?) However, if you’re more rested, you’ll not only enjoy your life more, but you’ll get more done faster. If your life and job require thinking at all, you’ll be more productive. Trust me, I’ve tried this and it works.
WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP–MORE DIFFICULT OPTIONS, BUT VERY WORTH IT
Live Within Your Natural Sleep Cycle. Sleep studies have shown that there are three basic sleep patterns and that they we are all wired with one, much like a personality type: the morning people, the mid-day people, and the night people. Sleeping at the time of day your body prefers will give you higher quality sleep.
Which type are you? Well, you can force yourself to live in any pattern you want. Your job or family life might push you into a particular pattern. But think about what you’re like on vacation–when the restrictions are removed. Think about how you sleep when you are fully rested.
Morning people wake up, their brain at full speed, around 5-6am. (Again, think about when you’re rested, if you’re sleep deprived then it doesn’t matter what your natural cycle is, you’ll wake up tired.) Their brain is on fire until about 11am, then they are ready for bed around 8-9pm.
Mid-day people, when rested and without any external pressure, like to wake up around 7-8am. Their brain is juiced until about 12-1pm, and they want to go to bed around 10-11pm.
Night people like to wake up around 10-11am. Their brain hits it’s daily top speeds around 9pm-1am and they want to go to sleep around 2-3am.
This one is more challenging. You can’t always tell your boss or your two year old, “I’m sorry, my natural sleep cycle means I don’t have to wake up right now.” But any movement you can make to align with your natural cycle will have a big impact with the quality of your sleep–even if you get the same amount of sleep.
Oh, and about 10% of people are morning people, 70% of people are mid-day people, and 20% are night owls.
Take Afternoon Naps. 95% of us need an afternoon nap around 3:00-3:30pm. (The Spanish and Italians afternoon siestas are totally right.) We just train ourselves to ignore that natural lull and push through it. NASA requires its astronauts to take naps when on mission. They did a study that showed a 26 min afternoon nap improved performance–mental and physical–over 30%. Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson both took afternoon naps. (Churchill napped on huge leather couch in his office and Wilson, when he was President of the US, had a nap room next to the oval office and actually changed into full pajamas every afternoon!)
It’s hard to find the time for this–I can’t do this regularly. But when I have had the chance, I can always feel a huge mental boost. I have even reserved a conference room at work, gone in there and turned the lights off. Then I’ve laid on the floor for 20 minutes and set my phone’s alarm. Or I’ve gone to my car and turned on the A/C–again with a timer for 20 minutes.
Get Your Sleep Analyzed.There are multiple ways to evaluate your sleep patterns. You can discuss your sleep with your doctor. There are clinics that you go spend the night in and get evaluated while you sleep. And there are devices you can wear at home when you sleep, including the Zeo headband that talks to your smart phone http://www.myzeo.com/sleep/ (prices start as low as $99 for the equipment).
If you are still thoroughly exhausted after sleeping what should be enough, don’t ignore what could be a real medical issue. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell you what symptoms to look for. But I can tell you that in college, one of my roommates discovered he had sleep apnea. It’s a condition where you wake back up almost as soon as you fall asleep, dipping in and out of light sleep. You’re sleeping, but never deeply. It’s a life-crushing condition. Weight gain, mental exhaustion, emotional stress…so much of our lives depend on good sleep.
I had lunch with a friend just a couple of weeks ago and he told me that he’d discovered only recently that he had sleep apnea as well. When he got diagnosed and treated (you can treat it and get real sleep again), his wife said it was like getting her husband back.
Want to change your life overnight? Get more and better sleep. I know of very little else that can have such a powerful impact on so many things. Don’t overlook this crucial aspect of your life. How much of life are you missing out on? What kind of energy and weight loss and relationships are you leaving on the table, so to speak, all because you’ve trained yourself to expect less sleep than you actually need?