by Kelly Morrison
We’ve all been there—the sleep-deprived, caffeine-dependent grumpy state that occurs during finals week, holidays or work stress. The accumulation of stress, caffeine and an addiction to technology can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule, extending the sour mood even longer. As a whole, Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep at night, a decrease from recent decades.
For adults 18 years and older, the average amount of sleep needed is between 7.5 – 9 hours a night, which seems like big dreams for young twenty-somethings who still have a nightlife. The quality of your sleep directly impacts your productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical health and even your weight. If you need an annoying loud alarm clock to wake up on time, rely heavily on the snooze button, have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, feel sluggish in the afternoon, need to nap to get through the day, fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed or feel the need to sleep in on weekends, you may be sleep deprived. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation can include the inability to cope with stress, weight gain, impaired motor skills and increased risk of accident, or difficulty making decisions—or the increase of these symptoms for those who already experience these results on a daily basis.
To conquer sleep deprivation, there are a few simple steps you can incorporate in your daily life:
Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at a routine time to optimize the quality of your sleep. Set a realistic time that will work for you: any time before Scandal is over isn’t going to work. Avoid sleeping in on weekends—even a couple hours difference disrupts your internal clock. Even if you stay up later, wake up at the same time.
Nap smart. Napping is a good way to recharge, but play it smart. If you are already having trouble falling asleep at night, or staying asleep, napping in the day will only worsen the problem. If you suffer from insomnia, consider eliminating naps altogether or reducing to only 15 – 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
Avoid screens. The light on your phone, table, computer or TV can interfere with sleep and your body’s natural rhythms. Yes, Facebook and Instagram addiction can affect your (sleep) health. If you absolutely cannot turn off your devices at least two hours before sleep, try to minimize the impact by turning down the brightness of your screen.
Turn off the TV. Even though there are tons of great late-night shows (hello, Jimmy Fallon), television can be more stimulating than relaxing. Further, the light emitted from the television screen suppresses melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Substitute the TV for music or a book and record your show to watch the next day (and ignore social media in the meantime).
Create Your Space. To make your bedroom most comfortable for sleeping, try to avoid or eliminate harsh outside noises, like barking dogs or other people. You can turn on a fan or sound machine to attempt to dampen the noise. Keep your bedroom cool, approximately 65 degrees. Your bed should leave you with enough room to stretch out and turn comfortably. If you wake up with a sore back or aching neck, try different mattress firmness, pillow tops, egg crate toppers and pillows for maximum support. Avoid doing chores or work in your bed. Leave your bedroom for sleep and sex—your body will remember that when you lay down, it’s time for sleep.
Exercise Regularly. Studies have shown that people who regularly exercise sleep better at night and feel less sleepy during the day. The more vigorous exercise, the better you sleep—but for those who are not huge fans of exercising, even walking for 10 minutes a day can improve sleep quality. If you do work out, make sure it is at least three hours before your bedtime or you will still be too ramped up to fall asleep quickly.
Snack Smart. Luckily, late night snacks have been shown to help promote sleep. Foods containing tryptophan calm the brain and allow you to sleep better, which is why Thanksgiving turkey makes you sleepy. However, for some people, late night snacks can lead to indigestion and make sleeping even more difficult. Experiment to find out what category you fall; great bedtime snacks include turkey sandwiches, granola with milk or yogurt or a banana.
Natural Sleep Aids. If you want a natural sleep aid, calming agents can be readily accessible. Try chamomile tea, warm milk (great for adults and kids), or cherries or tart cherry juice, which contain melatonin.
Sleeping is paramount for functionality—or at least the best functionality we can manage on a daily basis. To optimize, play it smart. Avoid or limit caffeine, don’t drink so much liquid in the evening that you will wake up to pee multiple times in the night, or try to improve the feng shui in your bedroom. As Marilyn Monroe stated, “The nicest thing for me is sleep, then at least I can dream.”
Kelly was born and raised in Virginia, where she currently lives with her rescued pup, Anna and fiance. She loves frozen Hershey bars, Netflix, running, and playing with new technology. Her best friends are her over-sized giraffe stuffed animal and her sass, which never leaves her side.