Don’t undersleep: how it hurts you & how to fix it
You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to know that when you’re tired, you’re not performing at your best. Sure, a once-off all nighter can be handled with ample caffeine and a healthy diet, but over time, consistent lack of sleep has a detrimental impact to your productivity, your mood… heck, even your sex drive.
Don’t worry – we’re not here to just chastise and scare you. We’re going to give you viable strategies to increase the amount (and quality) of sleep you get without changing up your daily routine. But first, we’ll go over what lack of sleep does to your body so that you’ll actually listen to us.
How not sleeping hurts your body and mind
Let’s start with some questions.
When you try to drag yourself out of bed after just a couple hours of sleep, how do you feel? Are you moving quickly, ecstatic to take on the day? Or are you groggy and pissed off, ready to snap at anyone who gets in your way?
We’re guessing that you’re groggy and pissed off. But let’s assume you’re somehow not – you’re perky and chipper, just physically exhausted. What’s your diet going to look like? Are you going to cook three healthy meals that day, or are you just going to order a pizza? Are you going to hit the gym? Probably not. Even if you do hit the gym, are you going to work out for an hour, or just 20 minutes?
These questions should make you realize that the effects of sleep deprivation go much further than just being tired. Your lack of sleep will affect almost everything in your life either directly or indirectly – your work, your hobbies, your relationships, etc.
Now, onto the science… and the scary stuff.
We won’t talk too much about extreme sleep deprivation, because although you might be lacking on sleep, you’re probably not staying up for consecutive days on end. Don’t do that – people die from it. A man died from staying up 11 days to watch the entire European Football Championship, and he never woke up. Another Bank of America intern died after being up for only three days!
The effects of mild sleep deprivation
The most commonly cited mild sleep deprivation study was done in 2003 by researchers at UPenn. Instead of mimicking other researchers and going extreme, they simply made subjects stay up one or two hours later than they usually do. (They still had to wake up at the same time.)
The results after a mere week?
- Subjects had weakened immune systems – this means that even with a slight lack of sleep, you’re exponentially more likely to get sick, especially in the winter time
- Their metabolisms were compromised – they burned less fat, even though they didn’t change anything in their lifestyles aside from their amounts of sleep
So aside from the obvious, immediate effects, even mild sleep deprivation can also lead to a slew of health problems.
We know what you’re thinking – you can skip an hour or two per night during the week, and then sleep in on the weekends. Wrong. If you miss an an average of an hour and a half Monday through Friday, by the weekend, you’re now seven and a half hours behind on sleep. On Saturday, you need to get the amount you need plus an extra seven and a half hours. Let’s say you need eight hours per day – are you really going to get 15.5 hours of restful sleep on Friday night?
Probably not. Which brings us to the next point…
How much sleep do I really need?
This varies from person to person. Some can squeak by with just six hours of sleep per night – if that sounds like you, then congrats. You have hit the genetic lottery in that regard.
Most of us aren’t so lucky. The generally accepted idea is that we need seven to nine hours of sleep per night in order to operate at our bests.
Determining how much you need starts with getting rested. If you’re behind on sleep, you can get the amount you need and still be tired because you’re still “behind”. Reset with a weekend of relaxation and getting 10+ hours of sleep per night.
Then, during the next week, get a consistent amount of sleep per night. Set alarms and stick to them. Start with eight and a half hours and see how you’re doing. Each week, subtract 15 or 30 minutes from that amount until you notice yourself becoming groggy – once you notice that, go back one week and you’ve found your sweet spot.
It’s important to note that lifestyle changes can affect how much sleep you need. If you run a 5k one day, you’ll probably need a bit more sleep at night.
Let’s be serious, though – saying “get eight hours of sleep a night!” and actually doing it are two completely different beasts.
Here are 10 tips to get more sleep and be more rested without disrupting your lifestyle.
10 tips to getting the sleep you need
#1 – Get blue light blocking glasses
This one’s interesting, which is why it’s at #1. Electronics power our lives. Nothing is wrong with that. But what is wrong with it is the fact that these electronics – screens on TVs, computers, etc. – all emit tons of light in the blue wavelength.
This blue light tricks us into thinking that it’s daytime, when in fact it’s pitch black out, right before we have to hit the hay. The obvious solution is to just stop using electronics before bed… but that might not be an option, or you might just not want to.
The not-so-obvious solution: blue light blocking glasses. As you can tell by the name, these glasses completely block out blue light. Sure, your monitor or television will be slightly distorted, but you’ll get tired naturally, which is what we’re gunning for.
We recommend these blue light blocking glasses from Amazon. They’re under $10, and read the reviews – there are hundreds upon hundreds of reviewers attesting to the fact that they really do help you fall asleep more easily.
#2 – Grab a bottle of melatonin
Melatonin is the chemical in our bodies that makes us feel sleepy. Believe it or not, you can buy 100% pure melatonin from any drugstore – CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, etc.
Take the melatonin 10 to 15 minutes before you climb into your bed. You’ll notice that you feel exponentially more sleepy than if you didn’t take it. Try different doses – some can get by with just 1mg, whereas others need 5mg. It depends on your body, but the good news is that melatonin is cheap – a single bottle (around $5) will last you well over a month.
#3 – Don’t grab a bottle of artificial sleep aids
Yes, you can go to a doctor and complain about your sleep problems. He probably won’t prescribe any sort of sleep aid to start, but if you go back consistently, he will.
This is the easy way out, but it’s not a long term solution. Instead of fixing the problem, you are just giving yourself a crutch. Eventually, you will become reliant on them, and going to sleep without the drug won’t be remotely possible.
#4 – Exercise, especially in terms of cardio
As humans, we were meant to be hunting and gathering. Running, bending down, fighting animals – stuff like that. We gradually adapted to be able to handle more and more physical work in a single day.
Now, our work has suddenly changed to where it isn’t physical – it’s mental. Most of us have desk jobs where we sit around all day. And unfortunately, no matter how much mental energy you expend, you still have this physical energy at bedtime.
You have to get rid of it. The easiest way to do this is with cardio – a simple 20-minute, light jog will tire you out and make you ready for bed. Hate running? Do calisthenics throughout the day. Jut don’t do them right before bed, or else they’ll wake you up… not put you to sleep.
#5 – Be full at bedtime
Even if your stomach isn’t eating itself, being hungry at bedtime can keep you awake. The same goes if you’re thirsty.
We’re not saying that you have to stuff your face before bed, but a light snack – some fruit, some nuts, a granola bar, etc. – can stave your hunger off until morning.
#6 – Don’t confuse your body!
It’s tempting to work or browse the web from bed. It’s so warm, and soft, and comfy…
…but when you start to do other activities in bed, you confuse your body. Use your bed for sleep, and sleep only. Gradually, you’ll subconsciously associate your bed with sleep, so when you get in, you’re already tired.
#7 – Try white noise
It’s easy to let our minds wander when we’re in bed. We stress, we worry, and we might even think about the embarrassing things that we did in middle school that make us visibly cringe. Even if the thoughts are happy, they’re still energizing you.
White noise is the basics sounds that you hear in relaxing places – crickets chirping, waves crashing, etc. You can find a ton of white noise soundtracks on regular sites like YouTube. If you can’t fall asleep because your mind is keeping you awake, try it. You’ll focus on the relaxing noise, not your thoughts.
#8 – Get comfortable, then don’t move
Tossing and turning isn’t effective. You want to get into a comfortable position, and then stay in that comfortable position without moving a single muscle. You will eventually fall asleep using this strategy.
So how do you get comfortable, you ask?
- Try using two pillows instead of just one
- Put a pillow between your legs
- Buy new sheets with a higher thread count
- Buy softer blankets and a bigger down comforter
- If all else fails, you may want to consider getting a new mattress – there’s a reason why people spend thousands of dollars on them, and it’s not just for fun
#9 – Stretch, then take a hot shower
Even if you did exercise that day (#4), your body might still be tense. When you’re relaxed, you get tired more easily. When you’re tense, the opposite is true.
Start by doing a full-body stretch. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Once you’re done, prepare everything you need for bed, then hop in the shower. Make it a hot one. Get out and climb right into bed – you might find yourself falling asleep right as your head hits the pillow.
#10 – When all else fails… bore yourself to tears
Maybe you did everything right and you still can’t fall asleep. Ugh.
As a last ditch effort, try to make yourself so bored that all you want to do is stop that activity and go to sleep.
- Read a book that you hate (textbook) or one that you can barely understand (something like Shakespeare)
- Get up and sit in the middle of your floor in the pitch black. Don’t lie down, just sit there and think about nothing.
Those are just two examples. You know what bores you – do that.
Falling asleep back in prehistoric times wasn’t hard, because we were always tired from the day’s labor. But in modern times, our lives aren’t that demanding – we often need to take steps to be able to fall asleep within a reasonable time frame. If we don’t, we experience a heap of negative side effects – fatigue (obviously), a weaker immune system, a slower metabolism, etc.
Use the 10 tips above to get a good night’s sleep. And remember, if you’re on the computer late at night, get blue light blocking glasses. Good luck, and good night!