Sleep is a crucial part of wellness. It restores your body and immune system, improves energy levels, promotes cardiac health, and even has an impact on your mood—people who get inadequate sleep are more likely to struggle with anxiety, depression, and irritability. For women specifically, it can have a major impact on your ability to get pregnant, since insufficient sleep can affect hormones related to fertility.
Sleep also decreases stress, regulates blood sugar, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and supports healthy cognitive function. Insufficient sleep, on the other hand, leads to decreased mental function (particularly with memory and focus), and studies show that your ability to think slows down after just one week of insufficient sleep. In fact, getting less than five hours of sleep at night has been associated with riskier behavior.
Unfortunately, getting good sleep is not an easy task in modern-day life. According to research, 50 to 70 million people in the U.S. alone have ongoing sleep disorders and one-third of Americans struggle with insomnia. I have found that I need 8.5-9.5 hours a night (which varies based on workout energy expenditure). My ideal range may seem ridiculously long compared to others (and does make me feel insecure at times—am I just being a wuss or do I really need super long sleep periods?), but I know my body needs this to thrive, especially as an athlete since sleep is a key element of athletic recovery and performance.
I also take a 20-minute long nap around six days a week. I typically notice a slight decline in afternoon cognitive function, so I shut it down for a short period (either in a dark room or out in the sun with my eyes covered). I always feel incredibly refreshed afterward. I recently read about a global sleep study from 2019 that revealed that 62% of people reported feeling like they don’t get enough sleep, which makes me feel pretty good about my insistence on prioritizing sleep and frequent naps. As sleep expert Matthew Walker says: “Sleep is not like the bank, you can’t accumulate a debt and then pay it off at a later point in time.” Even if you’re not expending as much energy as I am as an athlete, prioritizing sleep is still highly important, and is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle—especially when so many people already struggle with getting enough sleep.
If you struggle with getting enough sleep, take a look at the list below to learn how you can change that:
Personalize Your Sleep Habits
Some people simply need more sleep than others. When I interviewed RiseScience founder Jeff Kahn, he commented: “When people say they’re a night owl or a morning person, it’s not a preference: it’s a biological phenomenon…. it’s not something that someone chooses. It is largely biologically determined.” If you know you’re the kind of person who does better with a full 8 hours of sleep, it will be helpful to be disciplined about going to bed earlier and about screen time in the hours before bedtime.
This also extends to your gender: for example, women generally need more sleep than men. Not only are women 40% more likely to struggle with insomnia, but research has linked sleep with fertility and labor: Women who get less than seven hours of sleep are 15% less likely to get pregnant than women who get seven to eight hours, and one study found that women who experience insufficient to severely disrupted sleep in late pregnancy are significantly more likely to have longer labors, as well as increased chance of cesarean births.
Have A Good Morning Routine
As I’ve said many times, a good night’s sleep starts first thing in the morning. This is because the sunlight that you get in the morning acts as a signal that sets the circadian clock. When you expose your eyes to sunlight in the morning, this ensures that that night, you’ll get a much stronger release of melatonin, which will help you feel sleepier, you will stay asleep longer, and also experience what Jeff Kahn calls “a much more naturalistic sleep.”
Morning exercise can also be a big help: research shows that people who work out in the morning sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75% more time in the most reparative stages of sleep (for both mind and body) than those who exercise at later times in the day. Interestingly, nighttime exercise can also help with sleep, but only for night owls, not early risers—then the opposite effect happens.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Have good sleep hygiene and be disciplined about your nighttime routine. One of the most important aspects of good sleep is creating a sleep sanctuary: maintaining an extremely tidy, minimalist bedroom, and reserving this space for sleep, intimacy, and other restful activities, such as reading (for pleasure, not work) and meditation. No work papers, no clutter, no screens. If you need visual inspiration for how to create this sort of space, go on Google or Pinterest to see “minimalist bedroom design.” It is important to create a distinction—physically and psychologically—between your bedroom and the places in your home where you do work or consume entertainment. In addition, maintaining a temperature of between 60-68F (16-20C) will help facilitate the slowing of assorted metabolic functions that help your body get into—and stay—in sleep mode. For this same reason, you don’t want to do a workout or sauna in the evening hours.
The other big sleep tip is adhering to a good “wind-down” routine in the evening: getting away from screens, minimizing the amount of light in the home (blue light-blocking glasses or orange lamps/light bulbs are great), and perhaps taking a walk in fresh, cool air before you head to bed. As I said, discipline is important here—and you have to remember what you are sacrificing when you choose to watch just one more episode of a TV show or keep scrolling the internet/social media.
If you want to read about my 3 sleep essential sleep habits, click here. To listen to my brief Breather episode with practical sleep tips, click here, and be sure to check out my interview with Jeff Kahn about sleep in a past podcast.