Vitamin S

Sleep is a beautiful, wonderful thing. I’m convinced the world would be a better place if everyone got just one hour more of sleep. Even a half hour would do us good.

While I’m not advocating mass consumption of Snickers, they make a good point in their ads when they say that you’re not yourself when you’re hungry. The same holds true when you’re sleep deprived.

Not getting enough quality sleep has a whole list of detrimental consequences both in the present (lack of focus, irritability, forgetfulness, etc.) and in the future (premature death).

So, yeah, sleep is essential. But you already know that, and I’m not here to lecture you. I’m here to help guide you to a fantastic night’s sleep.

If you do nothing else for yourself but enjoy better sleep, your life will drastically improve. And notice how I haven’t said that you necessarily need to get more sleep. Quantity is important, yes. But like most things, quality is key.

One of the first questions that often comes up is “how much sleep should I be getting?” It’s a great question that doesn’t have a definitive answer.

For the longest time, I would say that between 6-8 hours a night would put you in a good place. Yes, that’s a pretty hefty range because everyone is different.

After reading Aubrey Marcus’ book “Own The Day” (highly recommended), I adjusted my recommendation based on what he included which was backed by some pretty good science.

Instead of focusing on hours per night, focus more on sleep cycles per week. A full sleep cycle, where we go through all phases of sleep, is approximately 90 minutes. Everyone will be a little different.

Aim for 30-40 sleep cycles per week with 35 being the ideal. If you do the math, that comes out to approximately 7.5 hours per night but accounts for the variability of the length of your sleep cycle.

Focusing on a weekly goal takes the pressure off getting an impeccable night’s sleep each night. It also encourages the use of naps. Naps are incredible because even a 30-minute power nap (much shorter than a full cycle) can contribute to your weekly cycle goal. 

“But Ev, I can’t take naps. I can’t fall asleep.” I get it. I’ve been there. Napping is a skill. Yes, you read that right. It takes practice. If you want to nap, you need to teach your body how to nap. The first few times when you try to nap you likely won’t. You might, but your mind will be racing thinking about all of the things you could be doing. Don’t get discouraged. Try again in a couple of days. You’ll get there.

So much for not talking too much about sleep quantity! Let’s get into how to improve the quality. Here are some of my favorite strategies to get a great night’s sleep.

  1. Make it a priority - you’re taking the right steps by being here. It takes intentional practice to improve your sleep. Sleeping is a skill that can be practiced.
  2. Consistency is key - this one is twofold. If you can, try to go to bed at the same time each night. If this proves too challenging, go to bed the same way each night. Develop a pre-sleep ritual that you go through each night. When you do, your body will recognize that it’s time for bed and begin to power down. This might look like some light stretching, journaling, saying your prayers, then getting into bed to read a few pages. Whatever this looks like for you, repeat nightly.
  3. Avoid blue light - electronic screens emit blue light which resembles some of the light waves that come from the sun. Our body’s circadian rhythm, which guides our sleep/wake cycles, is greatly influenced by light. The blue light from our screens confuses our circadian rhythm into thinking it’s daytime and not sleep time. Avoid screens as early in the evening as possible. Enable the “nighttime” settings on your devices when the sun begins to set. Look into blue light blocking glasses that help filter the light from hitting your eyes.
  4. Cut down on caffeine - I LOVE coffee and I’ll never to tell you to stop drinking it. But it’s important that we respect it and the caffeine that it contains. Everybody metabolizes caffeine differently. If you’re a slow metabolizer, that cup of coffee you had at 8am might still be in your system at 8pm. For most, it isn’t this drastic. Take a look at how late in the day you drink some kind of caffeinated beverage like coffee, green or black tea, or some colas. Ideally, removing caffeine from the afternoon is your best bet. It may be a bit uncomfortable at first if this is your usual remedy to the 2pm slump but know that the progressive improvements in your sleep will help remove the need.
  5. Sleep in a cave - remember how I mentioned the impact blue light can have on our sleep? That applies in the bedroom too. Our body loves a cool, dark environment to sleep. 68 degrees and under is usually good and the darker the better. If you can hold your hand in front of your face and make out more than a faint outline, there’s still too much light in your room. Turn off electronics to help remove light in the room and blackout curtains can help remove light from outside.
  6. Learn your sleep cycles - this won’t necessarily improve the quality of your sleep but it’ll help prevent you from waking up feeling groggy despite getting enough quality sleep. We want to wake up at the end/beginning of a sleep cycle when we’re in the lightest sleep phase. If we wake up in deep or REM sleep, we’re going to feel groggy and disoriented. When we learn the average length of our sleep cycle, we can better align our wake times. Yes, this might mean waking up slightly earlier or later than usual. Most sleep cycles are around 90 minutes. We’re looking to get 4-5 cycles in a night so align your wake time accordingly. For example, if you usually wake up at 6 am but are going to bed at 11 pm, this might put you in a heavy sleep cycle. You may benefit from waking up at 5am or 6:30am depending on your morning schedule. Knowing about how long your sleep cycle runs will help you align this. The next time you wake up feeling alert and refreshed, figure out how long you slept and divide that by 4 or 5. Use the number that is closest to 90 minutes and that’s the approximate length of your sleep cycle.

Start with implementing one of these strategies and then add in more as you become proficient. Start with the one that is the easiest for you to implement. This will help you build a little momentum.