Quality Sleep: Why it is important and how to get started
You’ve been lied to.
Everybody told you that sleep is for the weak and the underachievers. Sadly they were wrong.
The good news is, this mentality is about to shift. Sleep is for the productive and healthy ones.
Sleep does not only make you healthier in its own way, it also provides the groundwork for you to be healthier in other areas of your life.
Have you ever been awake all night, whether working on some project or just going out, ending up eating junk and other low-quality food on the next day?
Have you? Well, you’re not the only one.
I have and I hated it. I wanted to eat high-quality food, but somehow I still grabbed chips & sweets.
Today I don’t – because I fixed my sleep.
There are two major trends in the overall population.
The first one is a decrease in sleep and thus an increase sleep deprivation. The second is an increase in obesity, diabetes, and all other civilization diseases.
Isn’t it funny? The less we sleep the fatter & sicker we get?
Believe it or not, but there is a connection between sleep and weight. As a matter of fact, there is a connection between sleep and disease.
So let’s analyze the connections between sleep and diet.
You know I’ve been promoting a quality diet. Eating high-quality food only.
But there is an, even more, important piece of the health puzzle, yet to be addressed.
High-quality sleep*. *Note: Quality sleep means considering the two components of sleep duration and actual sleep quality.
Why is quality sleep so important?
Sleep is not only necessary to rejuvenate the brain and energize the body and mind, it is also necessary to fuel your willpower and thereby is affecting your dietary habits.
Not having enough willpower is one of the main reasons most of the diets fail in the long run, as you can read here.
That’s the first component of why sleep can influence your dietary habits in a negative way. You stick to your diet until you have a bad night of sleep. The next day you feel groggy and bad and don’t care about your diet anymore.
The other component is that sleep is directly linked to bad dietary habits.
Studies have found that too little sleep is related to higher cravings for high fat and high carbohydrate foods, but also linked to lower leptin levels (a fullness hormone) and increased levels of ghrelin (a hunger hormone).
Too little sleep changes the balance of those hormones to the negative, thus causing overeating.
It is said that a reduced amount of sleep can cause a weight gain of almost 2 pounds per month.
Maybe that’s also part of the reason for the connection between sleep and disease. The worse your sleep, the worse your diet, the sicker you get.
Less sleep leads to more low quality (junk) food, leads to more disease.
Those are two main reasons why quality sleep is important. There are more, here are a few:
- makes you more productive
- makes you feel better
- makes you able to start your day in a good way
- is a good starting point to upgrade your health.
Again: quality sleep consists of two factors and you can luckily influence both of them: sleep duration & sleep quality.
Sleep duration is the total amount of hours you sleep while sleep quality is determined as “how well” you sleep.
As you probably know both of those factors are subjective and depend on your genetics and other factors, but there are at least certain “ranges” for objective recommendations.
In general, it is recommended to sleep between 7 and 9 hours per night. That sounds like a lot, but in fact, it isn’t. LeBron James, for example, sleeps around 12 hours per night and is still able to be one of the NBA’s top players, or rather because of it.
There is also research going in this direction. One study found out that sleeping 6 hours or less per night for 2 weeks, will decrease the performance and productivity of most people in the same way as if they would have been up for 2 days straight.
Let me repeat: sleeping 6 hours or less for a certain period of time (and most people probably get less than 6 hours) will decrease the performance of most people as much as pulling two all-nighters.
Now maybe you think: “Not for me, I can sleep less than 6 hours and still function at my best!”
Here’s the problem: The participants sleeping 6 hours or less didn’t notice their performance decline.
If you only take one thing from this article, let it be this:
Sleeping 6 hours or less per night, will decrease the (cognitive) performance of most people the same way pulling two all-nighters in a row will while leaving you thinking that your are on top of your game.
Believe me, when I tell you: this is very dangerous. Not only are you affecting your health in a negative way, but your productivity will decrease without you even noticing it.
Depending on what you are working on, this might result in difficulties.
So aim for at least 7 hours of sleep. When you’re exercising aim for more. In order to find your optimal amount of sleep, you can either keep a sleep diary or take a sleep vacation, meaning you don’t use an alarm for 1 week and go to bed at the same time each day.
Here are the recommendations from the Sleep Foundation:
Over time, your body will adjust and you will see how many hours of sleep you need.
To assess sleep quality is a bit harder but I’ll give my best to keep it as simple as possible. In order to make this actionable for you here are the most important problems that decrease sleep quality and possible solutions.
- Interruptions during the night: noises, lights or going to the toilet.
- Not acting according to your circadian rhythm, which is based on hormones and influences on light exposure during the day.
- Waking up unnaturally
- Not completing your sleep phases and getting enough REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Problem: Interruptions during the night & not acting to your circadian rhythm:
Most of you have experienced waking up during the night. Sometimes it’s just a couple of minutes to go to the toilet, but some other time it’s being awake for long periods of time, either because of outside noises or lights that wake you up.
Solution: Make your room pitch dark and close the window if there is outside noise. Making your room pitch dark is recommended by quite a few sleep authorities, simply because it will benefit your circadian rhythm.
Getting (sun)light during the day and darkness during the night is the way we’ve evolved. Today there are many factors colliding with this system: late-night parties, bright lights in the evening and exposure to screens before going to bed. Getting rid of those disturbances will increase the quality of your sleep.
If you don’t want to go to the toilet during the night you should stop drinking, approximately 2 hours before going to bed, but you have to experiment with that.
Problem: Waking up unnaturally and not completing your sleep phases:
Using an alarm is a given. Underachievers don’t use an alarm while overachievers have one. That’s a general opinion. Maybe it’s the other way around.
Your body has developed a very specific kind of sleep phase model even Harvard professors don’t fully understand. What you should understand is that interrupting one of your sleep phases with an alarm will lead to grogginess in the morning. Below is a really good Youtube video explaining this phenomenon with the snooze button.
Solution: I won’t tell you to not use an alarm, but if you do be aware that at the beginning you will feel tired in the morning since your body has to adjust. After a week or two, you will probably wake up with or even before the alarm, provided you woke up with your alarm every day and went to bed at the same time.
My personal favorite is not using an alarm at all. It’s basically the same way to go, but without the grogginess at the beginning. Of course, you can only do this when you don’t have to get up at a certain time in the morning, but you could possibly take a few days off to adjust for your new sleep routine. The hard thing is to stick to it since you don’t have an alarm that kicks you out of your bed, so you have to get up yourself.
*If you want someone to help you waking up early you can hire my friend Julia on coach.me. She is one of the top coaches in this goal and you can get a free week of coaching with her using the coupon code in the bonus section below!*
After addressing these problems, I’d like to give you my personal two favorite tips for beginners to start your high-quality sleep journey!
*I’ve also advised my good friend Nik on those two strategies and he wrote about it in his post, providing, even more, step-by-step guidance. You can read his awesome post here*
Two starting tips for high-quality sleep
#1 Set a bedtime and stick to it.
Although this sounds like it is advice for your children, it is actually great advice for you. Setting a bedtime and sticking to it will help the body adjust to your personal sleep needs and your sleep schedule. It’s not a problem if, from time to time, this bedtime varies by 1 hour or less, but it won’t help you sleep better if you set it to 11 pm and are in bed at 3 am.
There are two good ways to set your bedtime.
- You have a rough idea on when you want to wake up and what amount of sleep you need. You then simply calculate backward to figure out your bedtime. Let’s say you want to be up at 7 am and you need roughly 8 hours of sleep. This would give you a bedtime of 11 pm.
- You simply set your time when you want to be asleep (I’d recommend aiming before 12 pm) and set your bedtime to around half an hour before that. Take that half hour to calm down, maybe read something or talk to your partner. This approach works best if you don’t have a specific time you need to get up in the morning.
#2 Shut down your electronics one hour before bedtime and create a bedtime routine.
In recent times, this is getting harder for people to do because most people possess more electronic devices every year and everybody (I included) fears missing out on something.
The problem with those devices or any bright lights or screens is that they emit a certain type of light (blue light) that will decrease the amount of melatonin (your sleep hormone) your body produces.
So instead of getting ready for sleep your body thinks it’s daytime and triggers hormones to make you awake.
Shutting off your electronic devices (including all screens and preferably bright lights) 1 hour before bed will improve your sleep tremendously.
Through my experience, I know that most of you will probably not notice any difference and think that you can sleep as good with the lights as without them. Sadly, you won’t. Although you won’t notice a sudden change when switching off your screens, your sleep quality will improve, trust me on this one!
There is also a chance that using electronics and screens before bedtime will suck you into the world of social media and the internet. You only planned on watching this one video before going to bed, but one leads to another and at the end you’ve been awake for 2 more hours, getting two hours of sleep less. Try to avoid this. You won’t miss anything.
I hope this helped you realize how important sleep is for your health and all other parts of your life. The two tips in the article are a good starting point, but I want to give you even more, that’s why I’ve compiled a bunch of bonuses you can get by signing up below.