When it comes to sleep, Michael Jackson said it best.
In high school I took an A.P. physics class. It lasted a period and a half, so to make time for it we came in half an hour early. Without grabbing all the links to back this up, I’ll just say that teenagers need more sleep than adults. Yet I was waking up for literally one of the hardest classes offered nationwide incredibly early. Week after week, consistently all year, our class had the lowest test scores. And by a significant amount.
My first year of college, I commuted about 2 hours one way. And I had class at either 8AM or 9:30AM four days a week (10AM Fridays). So I would get home pretty late (again because of the long commute and evening rehearsals) and be up way too early.
The body has a natural way of adjusting when it is underfed, pushed too hard, or not rested for long periods of time. You get used to it. I got used to running on not enough sleep. Many people are also used to this, although not because they have literally no other options.
Months ago I made a commitment to get 8 hours a night if at all possible. Just to try it out and see the difference.
The difference has been remarkable.
I sincerely believe that nothing is a better predictor of a successful tomorrow than a good night’s sleep today.
Being under-rested dampens every aspect of life. I couldn’t think as well as I used to, and I would just give up on long/difficult problems in life or in school for sheer lack of energy. I frequently nodded off in class. I didn’t remember things I learned. I didn’t even remember things like deadlines, scheduled activities, or house keys.
Last year on that long train commute, I left my saxophone above the seat twice. By fortune’s good graces it was returned to me both times.
Being well-rested doesn’t just improve those tangible sorts of things like test scores, remembering things, and literally remaining awake throughout the day. It opens up new possibilities. I have energy to sustain conversations, make new friendships, entertain useful and necessary thoughts, and solve difficult problems. I have energy to write. I remember what I learn in a deep way that allows me to really use those lessons, instead of barely recalling them.
Even little things like making witty jokes is easier with sleep.
Sleep also has changed my diet. I used to be hungry all day and all night. Now I eat a fairly normal amount. It’s also easier to eat healthier because when sleep-deprived the body craves fat and sugar.
Suffice to say, I can thrive in the world instead of just survive. Below are ten major adjustments I made. Each one took a lot of work and thought and planning and boundary-setting. But they were all important components of how I got myself to 8 hours a night.
10 ways to help sleep
- Make your room as dark as possible. Turn off electronics, close blinds, no nightlights, etc.
- Stop eating as early as possible. I’ve heard and tested for myself that eating your last meal about 8 hours after waking is best. I try to eat no later than 2 hours before I try to sleep.
- This somewhat goes along with eating, but caffeine should be had early, and only early in the day. It can keep you awake for 6 or more hours.
- I only use my bed for sleeping. The brain learns to associate the bed with sleep, and will begin necessary processes for drifting into dreamland. If you study in bed or watch movies in bed, the brain will not understand that the bed is for sleep.
- Be really tired. Most days I don’t have time to say more than a few words in passing or eat sitting down. Exercise, class, practice, working on this site, my job, and doing some other things ensure that I will be exhausted. I try to make sure both my brain and body are tired.
- Not only do I turn off electronics, I try to not even look at screens for an hour or two before sleeping. People who write extensively about this will say you should go even 4-6 hours without screens. Something about the way the light interacts with melatonin (chemical that helps with sleep). I don’t remember everything but I’ve tried it and it helps.
- One of the most helpful things I did was cleanse myself of addictions. Facebook, sugar, rehashing old memories…anything I noticed was a repeated distracting thought I worked on reducing. When I was up late at night craving things I couldn’t sleep.
- Planning my sleep. I sometimes tell my roommate “When I come home after work I’m going straight to sleep”. Planning sleep sometimes means planning my whole day.
- I take naps if I need to. Some days I know I will not get 8 hours of sleep at night so I take a nap during the day (30 minutes, an hour).
- Keeping the temperature cool. I have read that studies have proven it is more difficult to fall asleep in a hot environment, and a cool temperature (for me I like around 60-70 degrees Farenheit).
Bonus: Whenever I’ve made a change, it didn’t make sleep easier at once. I had to stick with it for a few days or even longer, but they all worked. And sleep is definitely worth it. Getting 8 hours is by far the biggest factor in a successful day; both for remembering what I learned and having the energy to continue growing.