You likely know how important sleep is on your health, wellness, and productivity. If you miss a single night of sleep, it can throw you off for the entire day and leave you feeling unwell.
If you miss sleep regularly, it can leave you at increased risk of illness, obesity, depression, and anxiety. The problem is, despite knowing how important sleep is, most of us treat it as a secondary priority. Some of us even unwittingly sabotage our own sleep habits just because we aren’t taking our sleep seriously.
We work late into the night to get a head start on the next morning, but end up ruining the next day’s productivity because of it. Or we keep drinking coffee well into the evening because we’re creatures of habit.
If you’re interested in improving your sleep, but you aren’t sure what to do, there are a few strategies you can use to make sleep a higher priority in your life.
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Commit to a Consistent Schedule
If you’re ready to take your sleep patterns seriously, the most important change you can make is committing to a consistent schedule. This won’t be possible for everyone; if you have a job that requires you to work different shifts, or if your responsibilities are often unpredictable, you may have difficulty pulling this off. For everyone else, try to get into a consistent routine, down to the minute.
Go to bed at the same time every night, and set your alarm to wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends and off days. Doing this will train your body’s natural circadian rhythms, allowing your body to deploy the right hormones at the right time to make you sleepy at night and wake you up naturally in the morning.
Setting a consistent schedule can also help you refine your habits. For example, if you exercise at the same time each morning, you’ll find it easier to exercise on a regular basis. If you always have your last cup of coffee at 2 pm, you won’t be tempted to have another caffeinated beverage later.
Buy a Better Mattress
Your sleep quality matters just as much as the number of hours you sleep, so if you’re interested in maximizing your sleep habits, one of the easiest things you can do is buy a new (and better) mattress.
Get a mattress that suits your preferences; if you aren’t sure what your preferences are, shop around and try out different types of mattresses in a physical store. Some people prefer firmer mattresses, while others prefer something softer. Some prefer mattresses that help you stay cool. In general, you get what you pay for, so don’t get cheap on this investment.
You can also make sleep a higher priority in your life by setting firm boundaries with the people and institutions in your life, and enforcing them. Let’s say you have a bedtime of 11 pm, which will allow you to get a solid 8 hours of sleep if you wake up at 7 am.
Your boss emails you at 10:45 pm, and sends a follow-up text shortly after, asking you to take a look at something. If you’re passionate about your job, you might be tempted to postpone your bedtime and accomplish this last-minute task.
However, it would be better in this situation to inform your boss you’ll be better capable of handling this task first thing in the morning. Unless this is a true emergency, your boss should be understanding. If they aren’t, and if they consistently create conditions that make it impossible for you to get a good night’s sleep, you may consider getting a different job.
You can also set boundaries for yourself, though these may be harder to enforce since they’ll rely on your own sense of self-discipline. For example, eating sugary foods late at night, right before bed, can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. The same is true for using a digital screen or drinking alcohol before bed. Set a firm time limit or intensity limit for these habits, and stick to it.
Learn From Your Habits
It’s also important to realize that everyone sleeps a little differently. Some people are especially sensitive to temperature, and others are sensitive to noise. Some people tolerate caffeine well, while others are particularly susceptible to its effects.
If you care about your sleep hygiene, you’ll need to pay close attention to how your body and mind react to the new habits you establish and the new approaches you take. There will be an adjustment period, possibly of several weeks, as you figure out what works best for you.
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