6 steps toward better sleep habits

6 steps to better sleep habitsMost of us know we need more sleep, even wish we could get more sleep, but wear our sleep deprivation on our sleeves like badges of honor at the same time.

In college, students feel proud of their all nighters, thinking it reflects dedication and work ethic. More often, what it really reflects is procrastination.

Parents of babies excluded, most of us can get more sleep. We just don’t. It’s not a priority.

We feel like we have too much to do. A full night’s rest feels luxurious, indulgent even, when there are overflowing inboxes and a sink of dishes to tend to.

Somehow, we’ve learned to associate adequate rest with weakness and laziness, a privilege reserved for the unmotivated among us.

I’m a morning person and I’ll admit it: there’s a little flush of pride that comes with being awake before most people. While there are many benefits to seizing the morning, this weird sense of superiority should not be one of them.

Some recent reading and reflection has me thinking differently about sleep. Mike teases me about my newfound sleep guarding. Since I learned that 95% of adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, I am adamant about getting at least 7 hours.

Here are six steps that have helped me improve my sleep habits:

1. Start thinking of sleep as an asset, not a weakness.

2. Do it on purpose: Don’t just hope it will happen. Treat it like any other lifestyle change: if you don’t do it on purpose, you won’t do it.

Like exercise or eating vegetables, it takes intentionally setting yourself up to succeed. Maybe that means setting an alarm a half hour before you want to go to bed, as a signal to start winding down.

3. Take naps: I don’t nap well, but there is a ton of research to reinforce the napping habit as a good one. 25 minutes after lunch can boost your mood, make you more productive, and decrease your risk for some serious health conditions. There’s even a whole book on the topic if you really want to be convinced.

4. Take a baby step and sleep just 15 minutes longer tonight: In Eat Move Sleep, Tom Rath suggest increasing your nightly sleep time by 15 minutes a day until you wake up and are no longer tired.

This technique is designed to show you your optimal amount of sleep per night, since it is different for everyone.

5. If you can swing it, don’t set an alarm one or two days a week. I’ve always set an alarm, even on weekends, for fear that I’d miss a precious morning. Just recently, I stopped setting an alarm on Saturday mornings.

This might not be a novel idea to anyone else, but to me it has been a breakthrough! At least one day a week, my body (and brain) are sleeping until they’ve gotten all the rest they need.

Different seasons of life might not allow for this practice, but I think it’s a really wise way to give yourself some extra rest and recovery on a weekly basis.

6. Measure it: Lifestyle changes are easier to make if you track your progress. I use an app called Sleep Cycle. It uses the iPhone accelerometer to sense my movement as I sleep, so it tracks when I’m sleeping deeply. Seeing the graph in the morning and my sleep quality percentage is fun, and helps me gauge if I’m improving. My avg. Time in bed over 127 night is up to 6:59, which means I’m right at my goal for 7 hours a night:

sleep cycle

What tips do you have for better sleep?

Other sleep resources:

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