How much sleep do you really need?

Performance enhancement is often thought of in a sports setting, but in the last few years, next-level self-care practices have made their way into the corporate environment. To compete with the growing demands of being unceasingly connected, it’s more important than ever to develop healthy habits. At the foundation is better sleep.

Most people know that they should get more sleep. And while most research circles back to getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, this is a far stretch for most. A more realistic and productive focus for long-term success is to concentrate on developing better sleep quality, using one habit at a time.

Poor sleep hygiene not only negatively impacts immunity, hormone regulation (think weight gain), neuroendocrine function (think memory), and mood, but it also costs money. A lot of money. According to a RAND study $411 billion or 2.28% of the gross domestic product is lost each year due to poor sleep.

For sustainable change, it’s important to build the habit of better sleep. Focus on the consistency of these actionable steps, one at a time if needed. Choose the low-hanging fruit, first.

  1. 45-60 minutes before bed shut down all screens that emit brain-wave disrupting blue light (smart phones, tablets, laptops).

  2. Keep your room cool (research shows that 68 degrees is optimal).

  3. Get black-out curtains

  4. Leave your phone charging in another room (less temptation to look at it if you wake up in the middle of night, no dings to wake you up)

  5. Practice a breathing meditation before bed (if using an app like Headspace or Insight timer, do these before the 45-60 minute power-down, not right before bed).

  6. Cut the caffeine after 12 pm

  7. Limit water consumption within 60 minutes of bed.

  8. Even one glass of wine can disrupt sleep cycles and leave you feeling alert at 3 am, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol also increases sleep apnea. My most successful clients save the wine for the weekend or have stopped drinking entirely. Do what works best for you.

  9. Focus on protein, fat, veggies, and smaller amounts of carbs at dinner. Higher carb meals, especially from processed carbs can disrupt sleep cycles. Including one to two cupped handful portions of minimally processed carbohydrates like quinoa, brown rice, potatoes, or beans will have a less drastic effect on blood sugar levels than eating their tasty, although disruptive counterparts.

  10. Nap time- when napping, focus on 15-20 minutes; longer than this will bring you into the next part of the sleep cycle and leave you feeling groggy.

  11. Stick to the same bed time, even on the weekend. Physical repair processes happen when our growth hormones levels are highest between 11 pm- 2 am. Psychological repair occurs between 2 am- 6 am. Achy body? Make sure you’re getting to bed by 11 pm each night. 

  12. Get the recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity 5 days per week. Not there yet? Don’t worry, even one day will help to improve sleep patterns.

I teach my clients to focus on what is in their control: their behaviors. Using outcome-based decision making, we are able to test which behaviors work and which don’t, based on their life and work demands. This list includes actionable steps that lead to overall better sleep quality, and ultimately better productivity and health. While I will always recommend getting the recommended 7-9 hours each night, test what works best for you.

Kali Stewart, MS, CPT, Pn2

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