The #1 Game Changer You're Probably Ignoring: Sleep
Sleep is the best bridge between despair and hope. - Matthew Walker | Sleep Researcher
Many of you productivity geeks might have, at one time or another, pondered on the question: what is sleep even good for? At first, sleep might appear to be an insurmountable enemy preventing you from reaching your goals; the one thing preventing you from working 24/7. Thus, to hear the common answer “we sleep to cure sleepiness” can be sheer unsatisfying.
Fortunately, there is so much more to know about this topic than that blank statement offers. It might sound unbelievable, but every process in your body and operation of your mind is wonderfully enhanced when you get enough sleep - Good news! However, on the flip side, a lack of sleep has the same decisive but negative impact.
Sleep is arguably the number one factor for health and vitality. From a lifetime’s perspective, it is the most efficient remedy against mortality. No matter what disease, if you’re sleeping well, you allow your body to unleash its natural superpower of being able to regenerate itself.
So what exactly is going on when we sleep?
In the last decades, sleep scientists succeeded in unravelling at least part of what's happening during the night when we're asleep. Research shows that there are two different types of sleep: REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is further subdivided into four stages, from very light sleep during Stage 1, down to very deep sleep in Stages 3 & 4. If you're aroused from deep sleep, you're likely to feel cognitively challenged (don't expect to be able to find your slippers on the first try, let alone to make a decent coffee…).
What happens when you hit your pillow is that you transition into sleep during the early stages, and eventually you find your way into deep sleep in Stages 3 & 4. The non-REM stages are then followed up by the REM sleep where dreaming occurs. Such a cycle lasts roughly 90 minutes and is repeated five times by our hard-working brain every night (Who said you are not productive while sleeping?).
Why is this important?
Sufficient sleep is now known to be an essential biological need. Every major ailment that is affecting citizens of developed nations has some kind of link to a lack of sleep. Obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cancer are just a small handful of modern societies' top killers influenced by a lack of rest.
Not to mention, that there is also an intimate relationship between sleep and mental health. Particularly dream sleep soothes all the stressful experiences that you’ve gone through during the day. You can simply imagine it as a form of free overnight emotional therapy.
Now, you might be wondering about ways in which you can improve your sleep. Getting the recommended 7 – 9 hours already massively decreases your risk of getting those diseases. Still, the need is very individual, with some people needing as many as 11-hours to feel their best. Working to build a regular pattern may help you find your sweet spot for great sleep and sweet dreams.
However, you should definitely be aware that getting only 5 - 6 hours of sleep per night is not enough, as research shows it might be just as bad as not getting any sleep at all.
It might also be helpful to look into these five tips offered by sleep researcher Matthew Walker:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This anchors your sleep, improving both quality and duration. Also, try to wake up naturally (think of it like this: why would you stop your phone update if it isn’t finished?). After some time, your body will readjust and if you're lucky, you might not need to use an alarm anymore.
The absence of light is essential for sleep, because it signals to the body that it is time to rest. Maybe you’re already familiar with melatonin as the sleep hormone that kicks off the body’s transition into sleep. Its less known alias is the darkness hormone, indicating the fact that melatonin levels naturally rise as darkness levels increase, so a dark enough room is imperative.
3. Keep it cool
Our sleep and wake cycles are regulated in large part by temperature. Around the time when we should be heading to bed, our body temperature takes a slight dip and stays lower until close to waking time. It appears that when temperatures are cool, this facilitates finding restful sleep, so a good idea is to always try to keep bedroom temperature around 18 °C.
4. Walk it off
The next time you find yourself failing to switch off your monkey mind, get out of your bed. You want to create an association in your brain that your bed is the place for falling and staying asleep. So when you can't sleep, don't lay there letting your anxiety levels rise as you fail to drift off. Instead, get up and move to a different room for a bit, maybe to do some reading until you can return to your bed once you feel sleepy enough.
5. Make mindful choices about alcohol and caffeine
Don’t consume caffeine 12 – 14 hours before going to bed, as it has a quarter-time of 12 hours (the time that is needed to reduce caffeine amount to a quarter). Have your cup of coffee right in the morning or, even better, switch to a hot herbal tea instead. Similarly, try to avoid large quantities of alcohol. It not only fragments your sleep, waking you up many times at night but it also blocks your REM-sleep, which is crucial for your mood and mental health.
To conclude, although sleep covers approximately ⅓ of our lifetime, research has only put a greater focus on it recently. Nonetheless, along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is the (still) secret key to health. Once you unlock its power, the floodgates to achieving your goals are likely to magically open up for you.
Learn more about ways to hack your well-being and focus on both your body and your mind by becoming part of the inner circle.