Get the best rest, regardless of your work schedule.
Use “awake time” for better slumber.
Create bedtime rituals and a nurturing bedroom environment.
Incorporate all aspects of health for your best sleep.
Last week you learned the basics about sleep. Now it’s time to put strategies into action to get the quality and quantity of ZZZ’s you need to keep you energized, healthy, and happy.
What happens when I don’t meet my sleep quota?
It’s a common issue: About one in three adults in the U.S. fail to get enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chronic sleep deprivation causes a litany of health problems including irritability, anxiety, lethargy, depression, foggy thinking, lack of focus, reduced vigilance, poor coordination, fatigue, obesity, heart attacks, diabetes, and an increased risk of injuries and fatalities. These concerns are especially relevant to you if you are a shift worker. Shift work is defined as staying awake for three or more hours from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am for at least 50 days of the year. And it isn’t just a work schedule that can put you in the “shift work” category. Maybe you’re a caregiver to someone at home who is awake at irregular times. Perhaps you are a parent of an infant, or you have a coexisting physical or mental issue that interferes with your sleep—or maybe you watch TV or surf the internet late into the night.
Sadly, many people try to “fix” or cope with fatigue and inability to sleep by depending on coffee, tea, energy drinks, and/or drugs to wake up; and/or alcohol and other medications to go to sleep. These methods don’t work and cause other health risks. Thankfully, there are many healthy strategies you can implement to improve your quality and quantity of rest.
You can help or hurt a night’s sleep by how you handle your work schedule. Of course, this depends on your work schedule. If you are a shift worker, your schedule has inherent, and sometimes unavoidable, sleep obstacles. Occupationally, a shift worker is someone who regularly works during the evenings, overnight, or early morning times. Shift workers are more likely to report problems falling asleep (daytime sleeping can be especially difficult), restless sleep, or excessive sleepiness and feelings of fatigue. If this is your situation, take nap breaks seriously if permitted. Even 15 minutes of sleep can offer your brain and body some recovery. If you work a regular day shift and are regularly plagued by afternoon drowsiness, skip the caffeine and vending machine temptations. A more energizing, and cost-effective, solution can be found in a big glass of ice water and a brisk walk, a 10-minute meditation, or chatting with a friend.
Prioritizing and following a good sleep routine when you are at home can make a vital difference to your health and wellbeing. Be sure to avoid caffeinated beverages at least eight hours before whatever you deem your “bedtime.” And skip the alcohol—it may seem like it enhances sleepiness, but alcohol will ultimately disrupt your sleep. If you do shift work that disrupts your normal sleep schedule, you may need to plan some catch-up sleeping. Finally, apply the following at-home strategies where they are relevant.
During Your Awake Hours:
Practice these strategies while you are awake to help you to sleep more restfully later:
Get Natural Light: Sunlight helps your body regulate hormones and neurotransmitters that make alert—you’ll still get enough daylight even when it is cloudy. Use bright lights during the day if you can’t get outside.
Stay Out of Your Bedroom: Aim to keep your bedroom for sleep and sex. Do all of your other activities outside of your bedroom.
At Sleep Time:
Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as sleep hygiene. Here are the steps to good sleep practices:
Stay Regular: Have a set bed and wake up time on your days off. You’ll sleep better, and you’ll feel more alert during the day. Assuming you lose several hours of sleep during workdays, always aim to spend at least nine hours in bed during your off days. That means that if you go to bed at 9 pm, you will get up between 6 am or later.
Establish a Bedtime Ritual: Brush your teeth, take a shower, read a book, write in your journal, listen to some soothing music, do a quiet or guided meditation—any quiet activity will do to relieve stress and prepare your mind and body for a good night sleep. Use a dim light on your nightstand instead of bright overhead light during your bedtime ritual.
Makeover Your Room:
Make a few adjustments to make your bedroom a sleep haven.
Ditch the screens: Around 64% of adults have a TV in their master bedroom. It needs to go! The light from television screens, laptops, tablets, smartphones, even digital clocks, can interfere with your sleep. Keep them out of your bedroom.
Check Your Bed: If you don’t have a comfortable and supportive mattress, invest in one now. The life expectancy of a mattress is about 10 years. Also make sure that your sheets, blanket, and pillows are right for you.
Be cool: We sleep better in rooms that are kept between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit.
Shut out Noise: Keep it quiet. If you live in a noisy environment consider buying a white noise machine, wear earplugs, or download a white noise app on your smartphone (just make sure you put the smartphone screen face down on your nightstand).
Make it Dark: In addition, buy blackout curtains or shades to make your room dark (especially if you need to sleep during the day).
Clear out Clutter: You want your room to be a haven that you can retreat to for rest. Move work projects, mail, gadgets, and any other chaos out of your sleep space.
Banish Your Pets: This might be more difficult than getting rid of the TV in your bedroom, but sleeping with Fido, Fluffy, or both can disrupt your sleep—especially if pets share the bed, according to a Mayo Clinic Study.
Time Your Eating:
When you eat impacts your quality of sleep. Research indicates that eating within a 10-hour window during the day will help you to sleep better and to be more highly energized during the day. Plan to eat your last meal so that it ends two to three hours before you plan on going to bed. This strategy, called time-restricted eating (TRE) gives your body time to finish the big job of digesting, which can interfere with sleep and many of your body’s repair processes.
Incorporate all 4 Pillars for Your Best Health:
Sleep is one of the four essential pillars of health and wellbeing. Make sure you are following all four pillars for good health (Blog 1)—sleep, and nutrition, exercise, and emotional balance—there’s a powerful and positive ripple effect that happens when you incorporate all four pillars. At the same time strengthening the other three pillars also improves your sleep.
When you develop better sleep habits, you’ll have an easier time fortifying the above three pillars. After a poor night’s sleep, you lack the energy you need to do your regular workout, your nerves are on edge, and regular tasks seem overwhelming. You’ll be more likely to give in to eating sugary or fatty foods after a restless night, and you may find that you have less control of your moods and are more likely to blow up or meltdown at your colleagues, family, or friends. Being well-rested benefits not only you, but your family, friends, co-workers—even the cashier at the grocery store, the gas station attendant, or those sitting in neighboring cars during rush-hour traffic.