Maximizing Sleep Effectiveness
Sleep, that wonderful time when you get to simply do nothing but study the back of your eyelids and see what kind of screwed up shit your subconscious mind has picked up while you’ve been awake.
While sleep is very enjoyable, you may not realize one of it’s important functions is to give your body time to repair itself and help you recover from the daily grind. Then again, it’s probably one of those “well duh” moments reading that last bit.
I didn’t realize until a few years ago how valuable sleep is in every aspect of your life. I was running at full steam, I was taking 12 credits, technically full-time, working ~32 hours a week, and teaching karate about 8 hours a week. That was on top of having a girlfriend and getting ready to test for my 2nd degree black belt.
Yeah I was pretty dead by the end of that semester. So dead I was talking to people and didn’t realize what I was saying (How I managed to drive 120 miles to my Black Belt test and back, I have NO IDEA!).
After the semester was said and I done, I slept, and slept, and slept some more. I made myself sleep a good 12 hours the day after I finished my finals, it was amazing how much better I felt.
I suspect many of us go through the same thing, while we all seem to understand the importance of sleep it seems like it does take a back seat. So rather than harp on how we need more sleep, I was thinking about how you can make sure the sleep you do get is as beneficial as possible.
[notice]Yeah, I base the majority of what I write on my personal experience, but when I read other articles talking about things like this and their conclusions match mine it makes me think it’ll work for others as well. If these don’t work for you, let me know and I’ll ad the info to the post or a future post.[/notice]
Have a comfortable place to sleep!
A friend of mine once said that you should not hesitate to spend money on thee things: your shoes, your chair, and your bed. If you think about it those are the three things you use the most.
I myself spent a few years sleeping on some old futon mattresses, mostly out of necessity. I was poor at the time, but then I was able to move out and still spent another year sleeping on them. I don’t remember what finally prompted me to put down some money on a new bed, but I spent part of my tax return on it and realized very quickly that it was one of the best purchases I’d ever made. It was a cheap pillow top but made a huge difference having a mattress that didn’t sag in the middle and was long enough that my feet didn’t hang off the bottom.
With the mattress, make sure you have good cotton sheets. Cotton is a great material that breaths and that helps the top of your bed stay comfortable instead of warming up as you sleep. I also make sure to put a mattress between the mattress and the sheets. It helps keep the mattress clean by giving the oil and perspiration from you body somewhere to go.
That brings us to a pillow, yet again, something you shouldn’t hesitate to spend a little money on (it’s part of your bed). The basic rule of thumb is you want to keep your head inline with you spine to avoid neck kinks/pain. I myself favor sleeping on my side so I have to get thicker pillows to compensate.
Another great thing to have is a nice comforter on your bed. It gives you something to wrap up in, generally the more cocoon like you can make your sleeping environment the better, you’ll sleep.
Speaking of cocoons, the next thing you’ll want to do to make sure your sleep is as restful as possible is…
Make your environment as dark as possible
This is probably another no-brainer, but many times little things like street lamps bleed light in through blinds/curtains. It was interesting to see how much better I slept after I hung blackout curtains in my room (it also had the side effect of helping reduce the amount of noise that made it into my room from outside).
My Psych 1010 teacher told a story about how she was doing work in Tennessee, and how she slept horribly while she was there. She figured out after a while that a street light would turn at a certain point every night and shine in through her window while she was sleeping. Once she blacked out the window she started sleeping much better.
Melatonin production is affected by light exposure, without melatonin your body seems to suffer some very adverse side-effects. Some correlational data suggests that decreases in melatonin production are linked to some forms of cancer (yet again, what is sleep for?).
Try to go to sleep at the same time each night
Like I mentioned in Mind your Surroundings, your body will become programmed to specific tasks in specific areas. But you body is also adept at telling time, by giving your body a regular time to get used to go going to sleep, you’ll more readily go to sleep. Put that in combination with only sleeping and having sex in your bed and wearing pajamas and your body should have no confusion about what you objective is.
Don’t eat right before bed
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, sleep’s primary function is to give your body time to restore itself after all of the abuse it’s been put through during the day. If you load up on food right before you go to bed then your body has to process the food while you’re asleep before it can work on restoring itself. If you stuff yourself right before bed it’s even worse, your body has to stress itself to process the food as quickly as possible. Try to set it up so that you don’t eat a couple hours before you go to bed.
Avoid caffeine late in the day
This probably goes without saying, but you really don’t want to drink anything “high octane” late in the day. As a teenager I made the mistake of popping some Excedrine at about 7 pm to help with a migraine. Yeah I didn’t get to sleep until about 3am. Admittedly when you should stop ingesting the good stuff depends on a number of factors, so use your own best judgement here.
Use sleep cycles to you advantage
Most people think you only hit one level of sleep and stay there, it’s not the case, you’re constantly going from one depth to another. Generally you go from a light sleep (the level you hit when you take a quick nap) down through REM level then to a deep sleep then you come back out. It takes about 3 hours (give or take 15-30 minutes) to complete one of these cycles.
So how can you use this to your advantage? If you’re going to sleep longer than 15-20 minutes (a power-nap) then try to sleep for blocks of around 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
How can you tell if you’re getting enough?
Well the ideal amount of sleep varies for everyone, I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older my body seems to require less and less sleep (part of that may be due to better sleeping habits). I generally do the best with around 6-7 hours of sleep, sometimes I need more around 8-9 after a really strenuous day of physical activity.
I’ve found the best way to tell is if you regularly wake up just before your alarm goes off. That brings to mind one last thought before I end this behemoth. That’s about too much sleep, if you sleep too much you end up feeling tired and lethargic (odd how too much of something seems to mimic the same symptoms as not enough, water is another example). How do you tell if you’re getting too much? Well if you’re getting more than 8 or 9 hours and you’re still feeling tired, well then you need to get your ass out of bed and start moving.