What is the One Thing Missing from Your Calendar?

What is one thing that we don’t make time for in our calendar that can increase productivity, reduce symptoms or onset of depression, help regulate our appetite and boost metabolism, allow us to be more creative, and reduce blood pressure and anxiety while boosting energy all day?

Sleep!

Look at your calendar right now. Do you have “Sleep” on your schedule? Or do you just have a chunk of empty boxes over night where, you know, hopefully sleep will happen?

We’ve heard the 4-minute segments stories on the morning news shows, we’ve seen the articles in magazines…sleep is important. Great.

No, really.

Here are some findings for you:

Going on 6 hours of sleep can reduce our functioning to the level of someone legally drunk. Not the fun kind of drunk; the kind that frustrates you when you’re trying to put together a coherent email. The kind that will make you go, “Eh, I’ll do a longer workout tomorrow and skip today.”

Sleep reduces stress chemicals in the brain and dials back the part of the brain that processes emotions. This is why we can feel irritable when we haven’t had a good night’s rest.

Lack of sleep causes ghrelin levels to increase and leptin levels to decrease. These are hormones that, when balanced, create a healthy appetite and allow you to feel full. So, when you haven’t slept enough, you’re not only angry (see above) – you’re hangry, too. Very unpleasant.

A Carnegie Mellon study found that people who slept less than 7 hours a night were almost 3 times more likely to catch a cold than those who got at least 8 hours. There are few things that can zap your energy like a cold!

So, now I’ve scared you. And you’re reading this in bed when you’re supposed to be falling asleep.

I’m sorry.

Listen, solid sleep patterns have been an issue for me my entire life. I still really have to work at it. Bedtime procrastination is a hard habit to break - I am with you on this.

So, what do you do?

You’ve probably heard the tips like, “Go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends,” and “Have an hour-long routine every night that you follow so that your body knows it’s time to sleep.”

This is awesome and science-based advice, but…

Who has time for that?? And who is going to wake up early every single day? If you can do that, and if you’re happy with that, fabulous. I want to BE you.

For many of us, these tips simply don’t play out well in day-to-day life.

Here are some real tips that I think most people may actually be able to use. If you can implement, say, three of these things starting right away, I’ll bet you’ll sleep better!

1)   Schedule your sleep. Now. For the next 2 weeks. In your calendar. Think about how long it normally takes you to fall asleep, add at least 8 hours onto that, then add on how long it takes for you to get ready in the morning. Do whatever you can right now to make sure you have space for 8 hours every night.

If 8 hours isn’t happening every night right away, that’s fine. Not optimal, but fine. If that’s the case (it is with me), find one night, every week, where you can dedicate 10 hours to being in bed. Honestly. When I started to do this, I found that it helped me start falling asleep faster the rest of the week, and I felt better all the way around having a chance to “catch up” a little.

Remember, 8-9 hours each night is optimal; the once-a-week catch-up night is your back-up plan.

2)   Try to keep your exercise in the morning or afternoon as opposed to evening. This is supposed to help support a healthy circadian rhythm (the mental, physical, and behavioral changes that a body goes through in approximately 24 hours).

However, I need you to move your body regularly. If evening really is the only time you can get it in, then this is the tip that you skip. Get in your sweat-time.

3)   A hot bath or shower can help, since melatonin production (a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the center of our brain that helps regulate circadian rhythm) rises as you cool off.

4)   Turn off unnecessary lights and dim electronic screens 2 hours before bedtime. If at all possible, don’t look at a screen in the hour before bed. If you must, make sure it’s as dim as you can handle. I personally started leaving on only one lamp and set my screen to 30% of its brightness level, and it made a difference really quickly (even though I totally still work on my computer right up until bedtime). If you have to, set an alarm so that you remember to start lowering the lights. You can even install an application such as f.lux to adjust the blue tones on your screen, which is beneficial as bedtime approaches.

5)   Try to stay off of social media and email in the hour before bed as well. You can’t control what might come in and set your brain off in a million different directions. Remember, if it is really urgent, you will receive a text message or phone call. It’s only one hour. The world, and your work, will survive.

6)   Avoid caffeine as much as humanly possible at least 6 hours before bedtime. If you know that you’re sensitive to it, or have tendencies toward insomnia, make it at least 8 hours. Remember that caffeine can sneak into some unexpected places, such as chocolate and headache medicine.

7)   Melatonin can be found in food. See if you can add a few of these into your diet to help boost your body’s levels: Goji berries are the super stars, followed by almonds and raspberries. Other food sources include orange bell peppers, walnuts, tomatoes, or even a tablespoon of flaxseeds (ground) or a teaspoon of mustard seeds.

There you go. 7 tips. Can you implement at least 3? I know you can! And I’ll bet you’ll notice a better night’s sleep and greater energy as a result.

Sweet dreams!!

-Jill C.