Pop quiz: It’s almost midnight and you still have three emails to answer, two loads of laundry to fold and a stack of dirty dishes to wash. Do you a.) stay up two hours later to get everything done, or b.) get some rest, to-do list be damned? If you’re like us, you’ll probably choose to stay up until 2 a.m. to get everything done. (Ugh.) And even if you do decide to abandon your chores and get some sleep, you’ll probably feel super guilty about getting the rest you need.
It’s time to say goodbye to that unhealthy 2020 mindset. In 2021, we’re resolving to improve our sleep-care. Haven’t you heard? It’s the new self-care. And that’s because getting adequate sleep has been scientifically proven to improve almost every area of our lives, including increased productivity and cognitive function at work, more energy when you’re playing with your kids (or fur babies) and an overall calmer and happier mood all day long.
Don’t believe us? In a comprehensive sleep study conducted by the University of Turku in Finland in 2007, people who were sleep deprived had reduced reaction time, a more limited ability to pay attention, difficulty with both short- and long-term memory, trouble with logical reasoning and critical thinking and were not able to switch between tasks as easily (we’re looking at you, type-A multitasker on five hours of sleep). Even though you technically know you should be getting more rest, it’s time to stop short-changing yourself. Unless you are making an effort to get a full night of quality sleep, you are not giving your body the optimal time to rest and recover for the day ahead.
Wait, exactly how much sleep should I be getting every night?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours a night for young adults and adults, and seven to eight hours a night for seniors. To determine whether you fall on the longer or shorter end of the spectrum, see how long you sleep when you don’t set an alarm. (Tip: Make sure you aren’t sleep deprived when you do this, or you might end up sleeping all day.) If you wake up after seven hours, this number might be adequate for you most of the time. If you wake up closer to nine hours later, you might need slightly more sleep than the average adult.
And how do I know I’m getting quality sleep?
The best way to know you’re getting quality sleep is to do an audit of your sleep hygiene. It’s time to thoroughly examine how you set up your bedroom, suggests behavioral sleep medicine specialist Dr. Lisa Medalie, PsyD, CBSM. Is your room too hot or too cold? Do you have heavy shades on the windows? Is there street noise coming through the window that could be waking you up? Do your pajamas and sheets allow you to stay cool and comfortable throughout the night? Next, check your bedtime routine: If you watch TV, checked email or play video games within an hour of bedtime, this can cause sleep disturbances. Something else to consider: Taking Ambien or drinking alcohol before bed might knock you out, but it’s not going to give you quality sleep. There’s a big difference between good sleep and sedation, says Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Why We Sleep.
So I can just get under the covers and turn out the lights eight hours before I need to be up, right?
Not so fast. Another tip from Walker: Most of us make a concerted effort to get eight hours of sleep, but frankly, we’re just being too optimistic about the whole thing. Think about how long it really takes you to brush your teeth, get a drink of water, put on your pajamas, read a few pages of The Center of Everything and set your phone alarm. Your intention was to go to sleep at ten, but suddenly it’s past eleven and you’ve yet to actually, well, sleep. Instead, we should be focusing on our “sleep opportunity,” Walker says. That means we need to incorporate the number of minutes (or hours) we’ll actually need in order to fall asleep into our planning. So if it takes you 30 minutes to get ready for bed, 30 minutes to read and another 15 minutes to finally settle down to sleep, you’ll need to devote nine hours and 15 minutes to the practice of sleep in order to get eight quality hours. Make sense?
Ready to nail your sleep-care routine? See the five items below that can help, according to a sleep specialist.