Why You Should Care About Sleep (Especially) Now
Written by Fritz Nugent
For many of us whose lives are acutely altered by the current world situation, we are each in a unique setting to reinvent our current schedules – when we wake up, what time we choose to carry out our daily tasks, and what time we go to bed.
Perhaps the most important thing that we can do to live well during this time is to sleep well. The experts seem to agree here on pretty much everything, outlined here (Sleep – The Underutilized Free Supplement).
To summarize, we should sleep at the same time each day in a dark, cool room. That’s pretty much it. All the rest of the sleep habits support these main practices, allowing your body to, over time, fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and sleep with greater quality (increased Deep and REM sleep).
Why You Should Care About Sleep (especially now):
- Did you know that ONE night of sleep deprivation takes a huge hit on your immune system, upwards of 40%? That could be the difference between fighting an infection, and losing that battle. This is extremely important right now.
- One night of sleep deprivation causes others around you to not want to be around you (not kidding – there’s studies on this)
- The best thing to promote recovery is sleep (more powerful than anything).
Sleep Habits Questionnaire
We are each a collection of THOUSANDS of habits. When and how we prepare for bed, our specific actions while sleeping (which can also be changed because they are habits), and what we do when we wake up are ALL habits. Whether each of our habits are helpful, neutral, or harmful is currently up for debate, and possibly, changing. YOU have the power to observe your habits, assess their level of importance, and make a tweak, swap, or omission where desired.
These are questions that you can ask yourself. Below them are some suggested interventions to help you make changes where you see worthwhile.
- What are your habits surrounding bed time? (Do you follow the same patterns each night, or do you change it up?)
- How long before bed do you turn out the light? What influences this lights out time?
- What sequential things do you perform before bed? What do you do when you wake up? Be specific. List and order your habits.
Changing Your Sleep Habits
Now that you have a list of your nighttime and morning habits (many habits linked together forms a routine ;), you can further assess each individually: Are they helpful, neutral, or harmful to your sleep duration and quality?
Everyone will have varying answers to those questions. Further questions:
- Healthy habits – Great! You found some healthy habits. How can you refine them for optimization?
- Neutral habits – These don’t help or hurt you. So are they even needed at all? Can removing them give you MORE time to be asleep? (hint: the answer is probably yes)
- Harmful habits – If you’re honest with yourself, you have some harmful habits within your AM or PM routines. How much do you want to change your life for the better? If the answer is not much, then what are you doing reading this? The magnitude of desire for change is directly proportional to the amount of willpower you can muster to modify a current habit, or add a new one.
Now that you have your optimal sleep habits list pruned and ready to go, you can begin to SLOWLY and methodically make changes where necessary. If you change it all at once, I’ll give you three days before you quit. Don’t change it all today. Change ONE small thing and maintain that change for ONE MONTH, at least. Once that habit is ingrained to automacy, then you can pick the next habit. I suggest beginning with the habit that you believe to have the greatest impact on your life. Sometimes, you won’t know the effect until you make the change.
Here’s an example from my own life…
Personally, I find initially exploring and testing habits most exciting! I have purposely played around with my bedtime and waking habits for over a year. I wear both Fitbit and Whoop straps and use them to assess my sleep quality, duration, and consistency. Here are some helpful improvements I’ve made to my life surrounding sleep:
- Consistency. I fall asleep and awake at the same times each day, even on weekends.
- Environment. I sleep in a dark, cool room with an eye mask and sleep tape (ahh, sleep tape – a conversation for another day. Spoiler alert – it fixed my sinus problems).
- Minimize Screen Time. In December 2019, I cut Netflix out at night. When my wife is home in the evenings (2 nights/week), we can watch shows, but the TV must be off 30-60 minutes before bed. When this doesn’t happen, my sleep quality suffers. This is objective – the data from the sleep trackers backs this up.
- Side note: cutting out the Netflix and instead filling my evening with audiobooks and real books has increased my creativity, and I have also been happier and more engaged in my own life, instead of relying on someone else’s made-believe stories to supply me with neurotransmitter action and endorphins. See? Who would have thought that would be a side effect of trying to sleep better? My life didn’t change, but it became MORE EXCITING to be me just because I cut out most of the mind-numbing crap. If you are a Netflix watcher and are getting offended right now, ask yourself what you are gaining from watching your soaps, and what you are giving up → EVERY habit has both a reward and a price. Ask yourself if the price you are paying is worth the reward.
- Add in healthy habits. The other 5 nights that I am alone, I turn out the lights one hour before bed and read by candlelight. My body has grown accustomed to this habit, and my sleep has drastically improved.
I’m sure with some searching, each of you who are seeking improvement can find solutions yourself. We truly have an opportunity in our lives that rarely occurs – a chance to reset and make conscious choices about what we fill our time with and when we undertake these tasks. Do not squander this opportunity! It may never return in our lifetime.
I’d love to help you craft your sleep habits and routines. Comment below to start the conversation.