Every sleep expert worth their salt tells us that sleeping is the single most important thing we can do in a day and while that may seem like an exaggeration, they aren’t wrong. Research tells us that we can survive longer without food than we can without sleep. To be more specific, sleep plays an important role in regulating our immune response. Not getting enough sleep can increase our body’s inflammatory response and even make us more susceptible to colds. Over the long term, sleep deprivation makes us more vulnerable to a slew of medical conditions including cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks, depression, and anxiety (to name a few). Sleep also helps us regulate our emotions and influences how we interpret the actions of others – very important skills to support our well-being as we navigate a micromanaging boss while wondering whether that one coworker is being passive-aggressive by not making eye contact or if it’s just the angle of their laptop camera!
Finally, and perhaps most critically, sleep is crucial for supporting how we think and process information about the world. This includes our ability to make decisions, be creative, focus, react quickly to urgent situations, and learn new things – all critical for maintaining productivity as we work, parent, or just function throughout the day. To function at our best, most adults need approximately 7-9 hours each night, while children require even longer.
To help you get your best sleep, here are some strategies you can implement in your home and daily routine.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary
Quality sleep rests on a sleep-conducive environment. This goes beyond just the space you sleep in at night, to include the patterns of light you expose yourself to throughout the day and making sure that you disassociate your work space from your sleep space. For a more comprehensive guide, read our article on how to create a sleep sanctuary.
Structure Your Days For Better Sleep
As trends continue to shift towards remote work and flexible work schedules, it becomes easier to let daily routines slide. If your work commute now entails a short walk from your bedroom to the dining room table, it becomes easier to justify staying up later at night. Likewise, when your weekdays and weekends start to blur together, this can also impact your ability to sleep.
Even if you do not work remotely, try to structure your day through anchoring activities like meals, a regular start and end time to the work day, and consistent bedtimes. Our brains are programmed to detect patterns and create routines, and maintaining consistency – particularly around sleep and wake times – can help regulate your circadian rhythm. If you have children, a structured day can be particularly beneficial in helping them sleep at night.
Limit Caffeine Intake after 2pm
Caffeine, as we all know, is a stimulant that can combat feelings of sleepiness during the day. So, it stands to reason that drinking caffeine near your bedtime will probably impact your ability to fall asleep at night, which will then impact how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Experts recommend restricting your caffeine intake after 2pm if you work a typical schedule (not shift work). One study found that although people did not perceive the effects of caffeine in the afternoon, it still had a significant negative impact on their sleep.
Remember to Decompress!
Events of the past year have compounded the stress and anxiety felt by many workers. Job insecurity, longer working hours, rapid organizational changes paired with a world that seems less safe and more negative is the perfect recipe for burnout.
To help yourself sleep at night, the first thing you can do is shield yourself from preventable stressors in the evening. Silence your work email alerts in the evening and stop watching and reading the news before bed; try catching up on current events in the morning instead. A digital detox in the evening is generally helpful, as reposts on social media can increase feelings of stress while also delaying your bedtime due to blue light exposure. Try closing out your evening with something you enjoy, like reading a book, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or even a game night. Exercise can also help reduce feelings of stress and improve your mood, in addition to regulating your circadian rhythm, all of which can lead to better quality sleep at night. Exercising too close to bedtime, however, can raise your core body temperature – making it harder to fall asleep.
Temperature Matters for Sleep
Your core body temperature – like your sleep/wake cycle – follows a 24-hour clock. It reaches its lowest point in the middle of the night when you are asleep, and increases from morning to late afternoon when you are alert. You can encourage your body to embrace sleep by suddenly lowering your core body temperature; for example by taking a warm shower around 90 minutes before going to bed, or by wearing socks to bed. This facilitates the dilation of blood vessels in your extremities, redistributing warmth away from your core to reduce your core body temperature, which makes you feel sleepy. Drinking a warm decaffeinated beverage, like herbal tea or warm milk, can help as well.
Take One Night at a Time!
When life becomes stressful, your sleep is probably going to experience some disruptions. As you prioritize looking after yourself and your loved ones, adopting these strategies can help protect your sleep. Read more about how to create a healthier sleep environment at home in our article: Create Your Sleep Sanctuary.