Everyone knows that sleep is important. But not everyone is dealing with the same set of circumstances. In our first email on the topic last week, we got into circadian rhythm, why a consistent sleep schedule matters, and asked you to keep a sleep diary to track yours. (Can’t remember? Revisit Week 1 here.)
This is Week 2, where we’ll explore:
- Common situations that hinder sleep and what to do about them.
- Vices and habits you should avoid if you want to get better sleep.
The specific sleep issues you want to fix (which you may see more clearly after keeping your sleep diary).
Don’t Sleep on Your Situation
Roughly the number of American adults who aren’t able to get more than seven hours of sleep on average. And millennials are most likely to report falling short.
While the reasons for poor sleep are often individual (see: Week 1), life and work also interfere. Here are some common circumstances that can make sleep challenging and how to reduce their toll.
Trick your brain. The roughly 20% to 25% of American adults who work full-time evening/night shifts, rotating shifts, or other irregular schedules typically get up to four hours less sleep than non-shift workers. Why? Most people aren’t naturally nocturnal. “Humans have evolved over thousands of years to be active while the sun is up and resting while the sun is down,” says sleep researcher Rebecca Robbins, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. So it can be hard to fall (and stay) asleep when the sun’s out. (See: circadian rhythms.) Robbins recommends exposing yourself to a light therapy lamp before your evening shift to tell your brain it’s daytime. Then on the way home, pull an Anna Wintour and wear sunglasses (regardless of the weather) to make your brain think it’s nighttime.
🤰 If you’re pregnant or postpartum…
‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’ is much easier said than done, but naps are your friend. Ask friends and family to take on household chores so you can pass out whenever possible — especially if you recently gave birth. Because lack of sleep can increase your vulnerability to postpartum depression and make recovery take more time.
'Sleep when the baby sleeps' is much easier said than done, but naps are your friend.
🛏️ If your bedroom’s also your office…
Resist the urge to do any sort of work in bed. Robbins says your bed should be reserved only for sleep (and maybe sex). Because otherwise, your brain may associate it with being productive — and not a place to wind down and rest. If you can, try to use another room as your home office or rearrange your bedroom so that there’s a clear separation between your office space and sleep space.
Thing to Know
Conditioned insomnia, aka chronic psychophysiological insomnia, is when going to bed makes you feel more awake than tired. It could revolve around anxiety (and the snowball effect of many nights worrying you won’t get to sleep). Or because of all the things you did in bed that you weren’t supposed to do (see: work, watching TV, eating). If that’s you, get out of bed, do something else, and only go back when you feel sleepy.
✈️ If you’re facing jet lag…
Start shifting your schedule before your trip. For example, if you’re traveling east, go to sleep earlier and earlier in the days leading up to your trip. Try to stay awake throughout the day if you arrive in the morning or early afternoon — napping will make it harder to adjust to the new time zone. If it’s a short stay: Try to stick to your internal schedule by setting your clock to your normal time, and operating on that the best you can, Robbins said in March during our SkimmU Well course about sleep. If it’s longer: Know that it could take a couple days to a few weeks to adjust once you’re back. But use that time to get back on your normal routine (and note: light exposure can help reset your circadian rhythm).
🥱 If you’re having trouble sleeping next to your partner…
Talk to your partner about what’s disrupting your Zzz’s. Sleeping next to another person can be challenging for several reasons, including snoring/sleep apnea, body heat, restless legs syndrome, and different schedules. But there are fixes you can suggest for one or both of you, including: seeing a doctor, staggering your bedtimes so that one person can fall asleep first, or initiating a sleep divorce.
Rebecca Robbins, PhD, author of “Sleep for Success,” is an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital where her research focuses on sleep and circadian rhythms.
Regardless of your circumstances, there are some things to avoid when it comes to getting better sleep (hint: this is also known as sleep hygiene), including but not limited to:
Caffeine…Studies show that drinking coffee six hours before bedtime could limit your time in the sleep stage where the body rests and repairs. (ICYMI: We covered that in Week 1.) PSA: many teas and chocolates also contain caffeine.
Alcohol…Wine not? Because although it might put you to bed quicker, it could suppress your rapid eye movement and keep you from hitting deep sleep. Waiting four hours before going to bed could help, but not if you’ve had multiple drinks.
Bedtime screen time…Because the blue light devices emit makes your brain think it’s daytime. Try to avoid looking at screens an hour or two before bed to encourage your brain to produce melatonin.
📝️ Make a list
Last week, we asked you to put together a sleep diary. This week, use that log, along with the information above, to identify three sleep issues you’d like to fix. Maybe you find it hard to go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Or you're staying up too late, generally. Perhaps your partner kicks you awake often. Whatever your three biggest sleep challenges are, write them down and resolve to work on them.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN WEEK 3
We’ll talk about how and when to bring your sleep issues to a doctor. Plus, we’ll get into some diagnosable sleep disorders and how mental health affects your shut-eye.
Skimm’d by Avery Carpenter Forrey, Anthony Rivas, Margaret Wheeler Johnson, Karell Roxas, and Hannah Parker
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