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The Importance of Good Sleeping Habits

Importance of Good Sleeping Habits

This year has been crazy! I’ll come back and process it at the end of the year 😊. First I wanted to share what has been the most important book I’ve read all year. Probably even the last few years. It’s about sleep.

Why sleep? That’s something we all know how to do, something we’re all experts at, right? We’ve literally been sleeping since before we were born! And something we continue to do every day. But I was sooooo excited to read this book because I LOVE SLEEP. I don’t get enough of it, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than spending time in bed, warm and cozy under a heavy winter comforter. Which is why it shocked me to realize I have such horrible sleeping habits!

The Book

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker explains all the scientific research behind everything about sleep, from the evolutionary basis to the damage from lack of sleep. The author, Matthew Walker, is a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, and has been researching sleep since he was in school himself. He starts off by questioning why we need sleep. Why did nature make us essentially helpless for 1/3 of our lives?

It turns out, sleep provides amazing benefits. While we sleep, our brains flush out all the chemicals and hormones released during the day. Dreams help us process emotions and solve problems we were mulling over. Have you ever gone to bed stumped and woken up to the answer? That’s due to sleep! The brain also organizes and files away memories while we sleep. And if I remember correctly, sleep also affects our levels of motivation (which might explain why I never want to exercise first thing in the morning).

On the flip side, the negative effects of too little sleep are pretty horrifying. There’s a lot of superficial damage that should make any of us want to get more sleep: our skin (and body) becomes biologically older and studies show that people with less sleep appear less attractive to others, and lack of sleep increases our appetite while suppressing our weight loss gene. But the worst damages are invisible. Lack of sleep causes our body to take micro naps, blacking out for a split second; these micro naps cause more accidents than drunk driving. Not sleeping can exacerbate all sorts of mental disorders (it’s not possible to determine if the lack of sleep causes mental disorders or if the mental disorders cause lack of sleep, but not sleeping doesn’t help), and studies have shown that lack of sleep can increase the growth of cancer. Even the Guinness Book of World Records has removed all records for not sleeping and refuses to accept any further attempts to set such records.

Tips to Better Sleeping Habits

But it’s not too late to change! We can’t undo the past, but we can take steps to ensure our sleeping habits don’t take us down the wrong path. Dr. Walker includes a list of healthy sleeping tips from the National Sleep Foundation to help us get the sleep we need.

  1. Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Wind down and follow a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  3. Don’t nap late in the afternoon.
  4. Exercise daily (but not too close to bedtime).
  5. Keep your room cool and free from distractions (light, noise).
  6. Sleep on a comfortable pillow and mattress.
  7. Expose yourself to bright light in the morning and dim the lights in the evening.
  8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and heavy meals in the evening.
  9. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something else until you’re sleepy.

Thoughts

This book has been life-changing. But despite knowing all of this, I am still not getting as much sleep as I should 😔. The one concession I’ve made has been to turn off my morning alarm (being fortunate enough to not have an early wake-up time). This has allowed me to wake up more naturally instead of jolting awake at the crack of dawn. I’m currently working on developing a nighttime ritual and exercising daily, but both are remarkably resistant to any attempts on my part. But I do have hope! Admitting I have a problem is half the battle!

Are you getting enough sleep? What habits do you find hardest to change?

 

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