Take Back the Night!
Updated: Feb 22
Tips from a sleep expert and review of Netflix’s Guide to Sleep
Keira Moore, Ph.D., BCBA-D
In a world of fast fixes and groundbreaking medical advances, we still haven’t found a magic wand for fixing sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders. Healthy sleeping habits may be some of the most important adulting skills that we need to ensure our own health and wellbeing – yet we seem to be less concerned with developing those skills and more interested in taking pills for a to get a good night’s rest. A 2014 survey showed that 1/3 of adults under slept, and that number has been steadily creeping upward, especially with the pandemic this past year.
As a sleep expert, I was excited to see Headspace, a popular mediation app, team up with Netflix to release a series called Guide to Sleep. Though it ended up being more of a plug for the app and their meditation practices, it was still an interesting and useful watch with some relevant and data-driven details. For those trying to learn more about sleep and healthy habits, the series does a good job of providing a realistic preview of the work and care it takes to change sleeping habits. When it comes to sleep, there are unfortunately no quick fixes or sleep hacks. There is hope though; and while the solutions may not be as easy as taking a sleeping pill, with a little planning and patience, good sleep will come. I work with people every day to help fix serious sleep problems, there are some simple steps that just about anyone can follow that are guaranteed to improve your sleep. The ways we manage the environment around us and set up conditions for how we go to sleep have an enormous impact on how well we actually sleep. Let’s highlight some of the important details from the Guide to Sleep series and some of the changes you can start making to improve your sleeping habits, starting tonight.
Keep a Consistent Schedule
You can’t talk sleep or schedules without talking about how much sleep we should get, so it’s no surprise the Guide to Sleep series chose this as its opening subject. We always hear the magic number is 8 hours, but this is more of a scientific average. Just as humans’ needs differ on calorie intakes, the number trips we take to the bathroom, or our preference for ice cream, so does our optimal sleep needs. While the amount of sleep adults need can vary from 7-9 hours per night, multiple studies have confirmed that all adult humans need a minimum of 7 hours of shut eye. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night can wreak havoc on your body- physically, mentally, and emotionally. And what’s worse, even if you think you feel fine on less than 7 hours, studies have shown that people often misjudge the effects of sleep deprivation and think they are feeling and performing better than they really are.
It’s important to not only get the correct amount of sleep, but to keep your bedtime and wake time consistent every night (yes, even on weekends!). Keeping a consistent schedule takes some work and planning, but this consistency will help to regulate your body clock (circadian rhythm), so that you are able to transition into sleep more efficiently and wake up more energized in the morning. Some good tips to help you keep a consistent schedule is using alarms or reminders, creating a social challenge with someone to win a small reward or bragging rights, or creating a checklist to help you establish a routine.
Keep a Consistent Routine
Much like how keeping a consistent schedule works to prepare your body to sleep, doing the same few things before bed also helps ensure a good night’s rest. Actions and routines repeated every night can provide a cue to your body that it is time to wind down, helping you to doze off faster. It’s best to follow a consistent routine that takes about 15-20 minutes before climbing into bed. This is an area where the Guide to Sleep series can be especially helpful. While, ironically, I wouldn’t suggest watching the show while in bed trying to sleep, it can give you some healthy tools to add your bedtime routine and your life. Meditation is a skill that can undoubtedly have a positive impact on your sleep, but it takes some practice. Practicing the guided meditation exercises in the series during the day can help you use those skills at night as you relax before you fall asleep, without needing to have the TV on.
There is no perfect routine, and what works for one person may not be ideal for someone else. Outside of the usual bedtime hygiene tasks, some of the best activities to add to your routine are things like reading, meditation, journaling, or restorative slow yoga. Keep your activities before bed quiet and relaxing, and try to eliminate all unnecessary light, including (and especially) from electronic devices. Consistently setting aside time to establish a bedtime routine can have drastic effects on the quality of your sleep, and in turn your quality of life.