Tell someone that you and your better half are expecting, and the first thing out of their mouth will be, “Congratulations!” The next will probably be, “Sleep while you can.”
With newborns waking every two to three hours during their first three months, parents are coming up short on the seven to nine hours of nightly sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep interruptions are the most severe with newborns, but can carry on in the following years as little ones navigate potty training, nightmares and the urge to climb in bed with their parents.
For co-parenting couples, striking the right sleep balance with one another can be difficult, but it will be one of the most important things you can do for the sake of your child, your relationship, and your overall health. With that in mind, here are three tips to help parents strike a healthy sleep balance.
1. Divvy up the newborn night shift
Many couples choose to put the responsibility of night feedings on one person’s shoulders, particularly if that individual is a stay-at-home parent or breastfeeding mom. But with most babies not sleeping through the night until the six-month marker or beyond, this can be extremely taxing.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation affects our abilities to interpret how our actions affect others and the other way around. So, unless we want to see our spouses become insensitive, socially-inept zombies, it’s probably best to split up the night.
Approach night feedings with shifts. If one of you is naturally a night owl, let that person stay up later to tackle the first feeding while the other snoozes. Then swap so the night owl can sleep until morning. Another alternative is to switch on and off nightly, with one person getting a full night’s rest, while the other answers the baby.
For breastfeeding mothers, these ideas may mean pumping ahead of time and getting your baby used to taking a bottle. No matter which method you choose, remember to be flexible with your routine, and acknowledge that from time to time, one of you may need to lean on the other for a little extra sleep.
2. Talk it out
If your current sleeping setup isn’t working, make time to talk about it with your partner. Have the discussion when you’re both rested (more on that to come) and when you’re free from distractions (yes, your children count as distractions.) This will give you both a leg up in your abilities to listen and express yourselves.
Resist the urge to frame the conversation around who does more on less sleep. Instead, explain the ways in which you’re struggling and ask for help. Odds are your partner has also been holding in strong feelings on this topic, so be ready to hear them out.
Since parenting takes teamwork, try thinking of this conversation as reworking the playbook you and your teammate have been running. It’s not getting us the results we thought it would. How do we adjust so we can both feel like we’re winning?
Lastly, be ready to have a conversation about sleep balance a few times over the course of your child’s life. Your kiddo’s sleep schedule will continue evolving as they grow. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner and you’ll both sleep happier.
3. Sleep more. Bicker less.
Yet another motivation for striking a sleep balance, studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to more frequent and severe conflicts among couples. When you and/or your better half aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to bicker and have a harder time resolving the issues.
If something’s bothering you, sleep on it and say your piece after getting some shut-eye.
Bonus tip: Take turns sleeping in or napping on weekends.
It may sound like a no-brainer, but Saturday and Sunday are the only days of the week where one of you can catch up on sleep while the other watches the kids. Try alternating weekends, or have one of you take Saturdays, while the other gets every Sunday.
There’s no one-size-fits-all for sleep-deprived parents, but we hope these tips have given you some new ideas to try or inspired you to have a conversation about sleep balance with your partner. Just remember: you both deserve empathy, and you both deserve a good night’s sleep!
For those that struggle with insomnia (or even with milder forms of “I just can’t sleep”), the list of solutions is slim and even dangerous. The most popular treatments are sleeping pills, but the negative impacts of sleeping pills don’t seem to have been widely publicized.
Currently, sleeping pills do not have the ability to naturally imitate sleep. Instead, they more closely resemble a sedative rather than mimicking natural sleep patterns. Put more simply: when people use sleeping pills, they aren’t getting any of the necessary restorative benefits of sleep. And to go one step further: sleeping pills are tied with earlier death across the board.
So where does that leave a bleary-eyed sleeper in the middle of the night, lying awake, tossing and turning?
This is where cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (or CBT-I) comes into the picture.* Right now, it’s being used in medical communities around the country as the front-line treatment plan for insomnia. The best part? No pills necessary.
How does CBT-I work? Well, it’s a collection of behavioral principles for better sleep health, and it’s also built on your body’s remarkable ability to form associations. You want to make your bed a place that you (and your body) associates calm, rest, and sleep rather than middle-of-the-night mind racing. Here’s the short list:
1. Go to bed and wake up at a consistent time.
Your circadian rhythm loves consistency. The more you can get your body into a wake/sleep consistent habit (within an hour, even on weekends), the easier it will be to feel tired when it’s bedtime and alert when it’s morning.
2. Go to bed only when sleepy.
Many insomniacs have trouble falling asleep, which becomes a downward spiral of sleepiness. Although the principle of delaying bedtime until sleepy seems counterintuitive at first, the reason behind this one is simple and goes back to association. If your body isn’t tired when you go to bed, you’re missing out on that clear signal that tired equals bedtime. This principle also uses sleep pressure to its advantage, so the longer you stay awake the stronger your urge for tiredness. We need that sleep pressure to build a bit so you’re body is actually tired when you go to bed and sometimes that might take sleeping a little less than recommended to start.
3. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
If you are lying in bed and your mind starts racing, it’s best to get out of bed. Again: you don’t want to associate your bed with stress. Go to a different room (dim lights, no screens) and do something relaxing like read a book, meditate, or listen to music until you find yourself getting sleepy (at which point, return to bed).
4. “Mentally decelerate” before bed.
Give yourself 30-60 minutes to wind down at the end of the day. Take up a bedtime routine and do everything in the same order each day. The best mental deceleration doesn’t involve TV, reading the news, or scrolling through social media (as these are all very brain-stimulating activities). Do try listening to calming music, journaling, reading books, or even just catching up on the day with your partner.
5. Remove visible clock faces from bedroom.
This one might seem a little odd, but the idea behind it is that you want to avoid the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and looking at the clock, which just adds stress to the fact that you can’t sleep.
Next time you find yourself in a period of stress and have a few nights of angsty wakeups, try a few of these principles as an all-natural return to better sleep.
*We are not attempting to diagnose or treat insomnia. If you feel you or a family member is struggling with insomnia, visit your health care provider.
Summertime brings longer days and more sun. Light pours in the windows, and that feels good to nearly all of us. Until we’re trying to get a full eight hours of sleep and the light wakes us up at 5:30 am. Light is a well-known enemy of sleep. Thankfully, we’re not entirely at the mercy of the sun (or headlights or neon signs). There's a wide array of light-filtering, room-darkening and blackout window treatments currently out there to help. Here are the major options, along with what to think about when choosing.
Some companies make filtering liners that can be attached to the curtains you already have and love. Perfect and easy; right? Well, not so fast. You need to find a size that’s the same length and width as your curtains. Easier said than done. If the liners aren’t wide enough, you’re still letting light in, and they look funky during the day. If they’re too wide, there’s more aesthetic weirdness to deal with, with white liners hanging out from behind your curtains. If the liner isn’t the same length, you’ll also see it prominently silhouetted every time you walk by, like a black slip under a white skirt. Even if you own a sewing machine, you likely have better plans for your weekend than spending a couple hours measuring, hemming and attaching curtain liners.
We also found the “convenient” attachment devices on these blackout curtain liners aren’t all that convenient. Some are too bulky or difficult to attach, or don’t stay put. Some have sharp metal hooks that could ruin drapes made from delicate fabrics. Others don’t work well with the spacing of big grommets. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and not to have to deal with any of the above issues. But chances are … you won’t.
An economical choice, and they don’t need to match the width of your curtains. They come in both light filtering and room darkening. Hanging them is simple, but the process of having them cut to size can be painful, especially if you don’t have an old shade to take to the store for matching the length. A recent roller purchase took us four trips to the hardware store for trimming. Measurements need to be spot on, because it’s a custom (i.e., nonreturnable) cut. If you go even 1/8” too short, the shade will pop out every time you pull it, and you’ve wasted your money. However, once you get the perfect size, roller shades do filter light quite nicely and are reasonably cheap.
Minor down side? The shades are about a half inch smaller all the way around the window, so light creeps in around the edges. Roll-up shades also don’t come in sizes for really big windows. Typical length available in-store tops off at about 72”. Btw, vinyl roller shades are best pulled up when not in use, because they’re unattractive. And why darken the room if you’re not sleeping?
Ready-made blackout curtains
These are another economical choice, and also easy. Pros? Blackout curtains are widely available and do a pretty good job of filtering light. Most home stores carry at least some light-filtering curtains. When choosing, be aware that the amount of light filtered can vary widely depending on the product. Try holding the curtains up to the light in the store to see whether they filter light or block it. The more light they block, the better for sleeping. Besides, you never know when you’ll be tempted to take an afternoon nap. Blackout curtains also are thicker than other curtains, meaning they can be more energy efficient and also help to block outside noise.
Cons? The heavier material can necessitate sturdier (i.e., more expensive) curtain rods. But the biggest drawback about blackout curtains is a blatant case of the uglies. They either don’t drape very well or tend to look cheap and synthetic. The only ones that didn’t offend our inner interior designer were ones that had light blocking linings. Choices of these are limited at affordable price points, especially if you want colors beyond beige or prefer patterns. You can try making lined panels yourself (time-consuming but easy if you do clip-on curtain rings!). This option can still wind up being pricey, though. Cheapest blackout lining we saw was $6/yard, and that’s before you pop for the outer curtain fabric. Home décor fabric is typically wider and stronger than apparel fabric. Which means it costs more.
Made-to-order curtains and blinds
These work well, look great, and there are lots of options. Roman blackout shades, roll-up bamboo shades with blackout liners, gorgeous fabrics in rich and soul-satisfying colors. Internet and local stores that make them aren’t hard to find. But be prepared to part with a major chunk of change, even if your windows are small. Prices start around $200 per panel and go up (and up!) from there. If you opt for blinds or shades, consider the new ones with cordless mechanisms that prevent kids and pets from getting tangled and possibly choking.
Motorized window treatments
These are among the newest “smart” home items, They have all the pros of the more traditional blackout items we covered above, with one huge additional benefit – they allow you to wake to glorious natural light in the morning without leaving your bed. You can program the shades to automatically rise in the morning and lower at bedtime, and you can also operate them manually from your smartphone anytime. As you might expect, these come with an equally huge con: a 36” window starts around $300. Ouch. Other down sides? They’re either battery operated or have a power cord. So you’re either dealing with a lot of batteries to replace or extension cords, unless you’re lucky enough to have outlets right under all your windows. These are also more functionally complex than a curtain rod and therefore more likely to malfunction.
Room darkening rod from CrateandBarrel.com.
Blackout curtain rods
Even with blackout curtains, light can peek out from the area between the curtain and your wall. Some manufacturers have recently come up with a new room-darkening curtain rod style that wraps around at the corners, blocking even more light. Prices are in line with other typical rods on the market, and they’re not hard to install. If you’re really sensitive to light, these are a good addition to your room-darkening arsenal.
It all depends on your budget and your taste. After looking at all the options, we decided to make our own lined blackout curtains at some future date. Too cheap to spend the money on custom treatments, and too picky to settle for beige or ugly. We installed end-wrap curtain rods in anticipation and room darkening roller shades to tide us over. They’ve definitely helped with sleeping longer in the morning, though we do miss waking up to natural light. Good luck in making your own decision, but don’t procrastinate. Every moment of sleep is precious, and this is one way to make a big difference in your sleep hygiene immediately. Sleep well!
As kids, we were excited about summer vacation. No school. No homework. Just relaxing and fun for three months. Fast-forward to you being the parent; summer vacation is not as exciting. Without school, what are your kids going to do all day? Sleep the days away and stay up all night? Without the structure of school, your kids’ sleep schedules can be completely nonexistent during the summer months unless you seize control. Our summer vacation sleep guide for kids can help. Below you'll find some ways to keep kids on a sleep schedule while still allowing them to enjoy their vacation.
Set a summer bedtime.
Because kids don’t have anywhere they need to be every day, they would stay up all night if they could. But just like during the school year, kids need a bedtime. Set a summer bedtime and a wake-up time, too. It is okay to let your kids go to bed later and sleep in a little, but within reason. Setting these times is a way to make sure they don't stay up all night and sleep their days away.
Every parent knows that kids somehow tend to have so much energy come bedtime. To help them get to sleep, give them a late-night snack that promotes sleep. Foods like cherries, strawberries, tomatoes, and milk contain melatonin, which is what the body naturally releases when it is tired. Assisting the body into its natural state while sleeping can help your kids fall asleep faster.
Keep them active during summer vacation.
Help them sleep by getting them involved in summer activities. There are camps that will keep the kids active during the day – great for them and handy if you work outside the home. Also, you can send them to a summer camp that focuses on a specific activity, like a sport or performing arts; ask your friends on FB for some reccos. Summer camps usually have the schedule and structure that is similar to a school schedule. Keeping your kids busy and active during the day can tire them out, so they are wanting to go to bed at night and can wake energized.
Muggy nights. The enemy of sleep.
While getting ready for sleep, the body releases melatonin and the body temperature decreases; making the bedroom cool can help the body cool off faster. Sleeping in a cool room during the summer months can be a challenge, depending on where you live. Running your air conditioner all night is not your only option. Because the temperature drops at night, opening a window to get a nice breeze can be all they need. You can also use a fan on low to circulate the cooler air around the room. Between 60° and 68° is an ideal temperature range for sleeping.
Traveling with kids. Oh, the joy.
Traveling tends to mess up everyone’s sleep schedule, especially when traveling to a different time zone. To help kids cope better, try keeping their naps and bedtimes the same as if they were at home. This may help avoid the possibility of having a whiny, tired child because they didn’t get enough sleep. You can bring something that your child sleeps with at home, like a stuffed animal or blanket, which can make sleeping more comfortable for them. Also, plan your summer vacation travel times so that you're in the car (or on the plane) during naps and bedtimes, which can make traveling with a child easier and quieter.
Summer vacation can also bring an increase in sleepover invites. Sleepovers can be one parent’s night off, but another parent’s nightmare. Sleepovers usually mean all-nighters, never-ending sweets, and cranky kids afterward. If you are the hosting family, set rules for things like last call for snacks and bedtime. Making the kids go to bed and cutting off sweets can lessen the chance of all the parents having sleep-deprived children to deal with for the next few days. If you are the parents with the night off, you should prepare for a sleep-deprived child the next day. Try foregoing sweets the day afterward, because chances are your child overloaded on sugar during the sleepover. Also, allow a short nap, if necessary, and then get them to bed at the normal time. The sooner you can get your child back on schedule, the more you could shorten your time dealing with an ornery child.
Back to school.
About two to three weeks before school starts in the fall, begin adjusting the bedtime to allow for a full night’s rest with the designated wake-up time during the academic year. Every day, move their bedtime up by 15 minutes until you have reached your goal time. This slow transition will make getting up earlier easier for them and you.
When it's summer, sleep is usually the first thing everyone foregoes to fit in as much fun as possible. We hope that these suggestions will make sure that your kids have the energy to enjoy every minute of their summer vacation and also to help you cope.
Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep, let alone an entire month celebrating it? That's why we're publishing a month's worth of tips to help you sleep better with only minor changes to your daily life. Here's to Better Sleep Month, and to sleeping your best year-round. You deserve it.
Better Sleep Month Tips
Sleep Tip #1:
When sleeping on your back or side, a medium height and slightly firm pillow works best to support your neck and head. On your stomach, a soft, flat pillow is best. Quality pillows are designed to keep your spine aligned while you sleep, which can mean more comfort and more sleep.
Sleep Tip #2:
By mid-afternoon, you feel the crash coming, and you reach for another cup of coffee. Caffeine is a proven stimulant, and that afternoon pick-me-up may be keeping you up longer than you’d like. Limiting your caffeine intake to before 2 pm gives your body time to calm down before bedtime.
Sleep Tip #3:
Falling asleep with the TV on or using your phone while in bed don’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong, actually. The blue light from electronics suppresses your body’s natural production of melatonin. By cutting off all electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime, your body naturally knows it's bedtime.
Sleep Tip #4:
Set a bedtime routine. Repeating it every night will put your body on a consistent schedule, making it easier to get up and go to sleep.
Sleep Tip #5:
Outside light can shine into your bedroom, preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Too much light makes your body think it’s time to wake up by interfering with your circadian rhythms. Investing in blinds or curtains that are designed to block out those lights puts you in charge of your sleep schedule again.
Sleep Tip #6:
Our body temperatures naturally decrease at night and produce melatonin, telling us it’s time to sleep. Keeping the bedroom cool helps that process happen faster, which can help you fall asleep faster. Recommended temperature is between 60° and 68°F.
Sleep Tip #7:
Working out during the day gives you the boost of energy to make it through the rest of your day. Doing so in the evening helps tire you out, so long as you complete your workout a couple of hours before turning in. By bedtime, your body is ready for rest. Working out a few times a week may even negate the need for an afternoon nap. But, hey, if you want to take a short nap, obviously, we approve.
Sleep Tip #8:
A small snack before bed isn’t a bad thing if you choose the right one. Greasy foods make you sluggish in the morning. Sugary foods, particularly processed ones, raise your blood sugar and energy levels. Foods like cherries, tomatoes, walnuts, olives, barley, strawberries, and milk contain melatonin, which can help you fall asleep.
Sleep Tip #9:
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary, a place for you to relax and reconnect with your partner. Having distractions in your bedroom (cute as they may be), makes it less peaceful because your focus is not on resting anymore. Cuddling and storytime are great. Working, gaming, jumping on the bed, dog tricks ... not so much. Give yourself the space to retreat, unwind and rest.
Sleep Tip #10:
That middle-of-the- night wakeup call that cannot be ignored, getting you out of your warm bed and then making it hard to fall back asleep. Just like kids are limited on consuming beverages close to bedtime, you should do the same. Uninterrupted sleep is the goal year-round, not just during Better Sleep Month.
Sleep Tip #11:
A hot bath or shower is a good feeling after a long day’s work. The hot water helps relax your muscles and puts your mind in bedtime mode. Doing so about two hours before bed gives your body temperature time to cool down. Adding some aromatherapy can enhance your relaxation.
Sleep Tip #12:
The walls make the room. Bright colors may look nice and energizing, but they don't create the best ambience for sleeping. Your bedroom should be inviting and peaceful. Painting in neutral, calming colors can promote sleep.
Sleep Tip #13:
Sleeping with your socks on may not sound alluring, but it could help you fall asleep faster. Warming your limbs increases dilation of the blood vessels, telling your body it's time for bed. Wearing socks that aren't too thick and are made from natural fabrics works best.
Sleep Tip #14:
Chamomile has many health benefits, but the most common is for sleep. It is a relaxing, non-caffeinated herb. Drinking a small cup of chamomile tea before bed can help ease pain and get your body ready to sleep.
Sleep Tip #15:
That cocktail or glass of wine before bed may help you get to sleep, but it may also be the reason you can't sleep through the night. Alcohol can disrupt your REM cycles. Avoid drinking any alcohol 3-4 hours before bed and drink more water instead. Don't drink any beverages right before bed, though, as noted in Sleep Tip #10 above.
Sleep Tip #16:
Aromatherapy uses the healing powers of scents to balance your mind, body and spirit. Pure essential oils are diffused into the air or rubbed on pressure points to help you relax, relieve stress, and promote better sleep. Some popular scents with calming effects include lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, and jasmine.
Sleep Tip #17:
In with peace. Out with drama. Meditation sounds easy enough, right? Thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list or worrying about a problem can keep you awake night after night. Being able to completely clear your mind can help you sleep better. Find a quiet place where you can spend time meditating before you go to bed.
Sleep Tip #18:
Smoking has quite a few health risks, and your sleep is one of them. Because nicotine is a stimulant, smoking throughout the day keeps nicotine in your system, making it harder to wind down and stay asleep through the night. The only good news on this subject? From the moment you stop smoking, your body goes into healing mode.
Sleep Tip #19:
Living in a city can be nice and convenient. And loud. Or maybe you have an air conditioner blasting outside your window or a snoring spouse. Noise interferes with sleep. Listening to the sounds of nature can be relaxing and helps to block outside noise without disturbing your sleep. You can also try soft music or white noise.
Sleep Tip #20:
“Five more minutes,” she says as she hits the snooze button. Those five extra minutes can be doing more harm than help. If you fall back asleep, when the alarm goes off in five minutes, you will be groggier than you were before. And if you set it repeatedly, you're robbing yourself of extra sleep for those minutes. Set one alarm and get into the habit of getting up as soon as it goes off.
Sleep Tip #21:
Scary, suspenseful or emotional movies or books should be avoided at bedtime. Leave the thrillers and murder mysteries for earlier in the day or a weekend afternoon. Not to mention, lighted screens are bad for sleep, as noted in Tip #3. Instead, find a book that is a lighter read (or a book you’ve already read), so it's a little easier to put down at bedtime.
Sleep Tip #22:
Naps. Just the word brings joy. But most of us struggle with knowing how long is too long. If the nap is too short, you wake more tired than before. If it's too long, you may be too awake for bedtime. 30 is the magic number. A 30-minute nap can help you feel refreshed and get you through the rest of your day.
Sleep Tip #23:
The arrangement of furniture and objects in your bedroom can affect your quality of sleep as well as your energy when you wake. Following the principles of feng shui can help you relax and also change your perception of your bedroom into one of a peaceful retreat.
Sleep Tip #24:
As you sleep, your body works to regulate your body temperature. All- natural sheets allow better circulation. Organic sheets are also all-natural but made to higher, healthier standards. There are many fakers trying to imply they're organic, so look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) seal. Sheets made with synthetic fabrics tend to trap heat and sweat, which can breed bacteria and lead to sleeping hot.
Sleep Tip #25:
Wearing a sleep tracker to bed can tell you how many times you tossed and turned, plus how long you were awake throughout the night. Tracking your sleep is easy, with many trackers on the market to choose from, and can help you make the necessary changes to get a full night’s sleep.
Sleep Tip #26:
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but less invasive. It involves applying pressure on the body or massaging certain points to help with various ailments. Practitioners believe it balances energy and health, helps with circulation, and relieves pain. Using essential oils during acupressure can enhance its effects and the experience, too.
Sleep Tip #27:
It's not fair when your partner is fast asleep and you're wide awake because of his or her snoring. We have a solution that is better than kicking them out of the bedroom. Sleeping at an angle of 7°-8° or higher helps with snoring. Elevate with pillows or an adjustable power base. This position is also good if you have acid reflux.
Sleep Tip #28:
Going to bed with tomorrow’s to-do list and other things that are stressing you out can keep you up at night. Writing things down can help you let them go or remember what needs to get done tomorrow. Keep a journal near your bed so you can write everything off your mind and sleep peacefully.
Sleep Tip #29:
There are many natural remedies that are thought to improve sleep, though more study is needed to conclusively prove cause and effect. Other than chamomile, herbs that may help you get some shuteye include valerian root, lavender, lemon balm, hops, passion flower and St. John's Wort.
Sleep Tip #30:
A messy bedroom is the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning. Cleaning your bedroom can be therapeutic. Having a space that is clear of clutter helps you avoid the stress caused by visual overload, helps you to feel like your room is under control and puts your mind at ease.
Sleep Tip #31:
Better Sleep Month has been all about giving you a month's worth of useful tips to help you sleep better. Sometimes, though, poor sleep can be the result of an underlying medical condition. Speaking with your doctor can help diagnose the problem. The sooner you find out what is wrong, the sooner you can be on your way to getting the great sleep you deserve.
Both as a neurobiologist and human, I love REM sleep.
REM sleep is a special stage of sleep. When we are asleep, our bodies and brains cycle through different kinds of sleep every couple hours. At the beginning, the cycles contain more deep sleep and slow wave sleep, both of which help reset the body and mind. Healing happens best in deep sleep, and both get the brain to calm down, clear itself, and make room for new memories and experiences the next day. These stages can be very refreshing, especially after a hard day’s work, but they’re not what I’d call fun.
In REM, the many different brain bits rehearse whatever they thought was the most salient part of the day, and nothing says all the bits have to agree. For example, when I enter REM, one part might focus on a moment I stumbled, another part might go over an experiment I need to plan, and yet another could be thinking about the tasty lunch place I found. I won’t be aware of what each region is doing, but the part of my brain that stitches together all my senses during my waking hours is still trying to make a coherent reality. And the awareness that arises from that mishmash has given rise to religions and prophecies, and less grandly for myself, nightly entertainment. This is the non-reality in dreams; mine are vivid.
The dreams of a neurobiologist. Much like anybody else's.
I know, as a sleep scientist, that everybody experiences sleep differently. I do not know how universal my experience is, but I share it here in the hopes that it might inspire those who are not yet REM enthusiasts. I experience all of my senses, and get a robust emotional ride. I have experienced terror and exuberance and even fallen in love in my dreams. When I was little, I used to have nightmares of being chased, and would wake up afraid to go back to sleep. It took me into my teen years to wake up one night, angry at being chased more than scared. I remember thinking “this is my dream. I get to win.” I went back to sleep, beat up the monster chasing me, and have felt more aware of my dreams since. I wonder how that works, and how common that is.
That is why I track my sleep. I’m my own guinea pig for many projects, only because getting good sleep data is too expensive and too invasive at present for me to do it at a large scale. My colleagues and I use a mixture of sensors, hormone assessments, and careful logging to build models of sleep that allow us – more and more with each experiment – to predict biological changes from sleep stages gathered by wearable devices.
The current state of sleep tracking.
Right now, most sleep trackers seem a little gimmicky, and that’s because they are. But it’s not their fault. The spring bloom of sleep trackers and wearable devices we are currently seeing is our society realizing that sleep is an important part of health, and trying to find a way to start learning about what sleep actually looks like. Since no one knows what the right approach for getting those data will be, there are a lot of experiments going on. Some are done by publicly-funded scientists like me. Some are done by companies hoping their device will be the one. And some are done by citizen scientists. But all of us together are feeling our way into sleep, and each experiment brings the subsequent ones closer to being really helpful. Sleep is in part a response of the body and brain to what is happening to it in waking life, so eventually we might be able to learn all kinds of sleep patterns with predictive medical applications.
I have used multiple sleep tracking devices over the years for my research, including more than one model of EEG – a mesh of electrodes recording electrical brain activity from my scalp. I have learned that my REM decreases in the days before I get sick, and that when I’m healthy I get about 40% of my night in REM, as compared to 10-20% for most people. Maybe that gives me room for a lot of big dreams.
I think that one day, sleep will be a vital part of how we track our health and take care of our loved ones as they grow and then age. In the meantime, learning about sleep gets me out of bed each day, and getting REM is enough fun to bring me back each night. I encourage you to try and share some of my sleep joy. Track your sleep or journal your dreams. Or share your sleep experiences with friends and learn about theirs. We all spend a lot of time sleeping. We ought to make use of it, and to enjoy it!
Dr. Benjamin Smarr studies the temporal structures that biological systems make as they move through time. An NIH research fellow at UC Berkeley, his work focuses on understanding how physiological dynamics like sleep, circadian rhythms, and ovulatory cycles are shaped by the brain, and how disturbances to those cycles gives rise to disease. Dr. Smarr is also an advocate for scientific outreach, and routinely gives public lectures and visits K-12 classrooms to help promote the idea that by understanding the biology that guides us, we can live more empowered lives.
There are a number of questions that an interviewer typically asks a potential candidate for a position.
- “What relevant experience do you have?”
- “Do you work better collaboratively or on your own?”
- “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?"
An increasing amount of data indicates that it would behoove hiring managers to add another question to their standard list: how well do you sleep?
At first glance, it may not seem as relevant as a question about their skill set or a gap in their resume. But when it comes to the quality of work that employers can expect day in and day out, sleep quality matters. A lot.
We’ve already written about how high-quality sleep can fuel your career success. So if the potential work benefits of great shut-eye didn’t inspire you to step up your sleep game, we’re here now to discuss the inverse. Because the negative effects of sleep deprivation on your work life should make bedtime the most important agenda item of your day.
A Recipe for Disaster
On the extreme end of things, the consequences of sleep deprivation can be seen in the nuclear disasters at both Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Sleep deprivation also contributed to the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident, as well as the explosion of the Challenger. A 2004 report also showed that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in medical errors. However, lives need not be at stake for poor sleep to wreak serious havoc on your work life.
You Make Poor Decisions
When you’re sleep-deprived, your prefrontal cortex doesn’t work well, which impairs a whole host of complex functions. Chief among them is the ability to make decisions. According to one study, sleep deprivation “impairs decision-making involving the unexpected, innovation, revising plans, competing distraction, and effective communication.” Yikes. That means it’s harder to make decisions in general, and nearly impossible to make quick decisions when things don’t go exactly as planned (which, let’s be real, they rarely do).
There are no jobs that don’t require decision-making, whether it’s about who to delegate responsibility to, which marketing strategy to choose, or what product features to add. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that our work lives are just a series of decisions large and small. Which means that if you’re not well rested, it will affect every minute of your workday.
You Can’t Focus
Part of the impaired ability to make decisions likely has to do with the fact that it’s a lot harder to focus when you’re sleep-deprived (after all, how can you make a choice when you can’t concentrate long enough to consider the options?). This lack of focus also means that it takes a heck of a lot longer to complete tasks, destroying your workday productivity. So working longer and sleeping less is a bad strategy for productivity.
You’re Bad with Numbers
After a poor night’s rest, don’t expect to be a stellar—or even decent—number cruncher. In one study, subjects who had gone 35 hours without sleep performed significantly worse than their well-rested counterparts on arithmetic problems and had much less brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. And this one doesn’t just apply to mathematicians! Quantitative thinking plays a role in most jobs, whether it’s reviewing financial numbers, analyzing marketing statistics, handling payroll and expense reports or managing inventory.
You Can’t Read People
The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for moderating social behavior. When this part of your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, you’re less able to make jokes or appreciate humor. You also have a harder time reading other’s emotions: which quickly becomes a problem in any work environment requiring any sort of collaboration or human interaction.
Sleep deprivation makes you markedly worse at conflict resolution. In fact, you’re more likely to exacerbate the situation, as those who are sleep-deprived are more inclined to bicker and express negativity.
This also means that you’ll probably have a bad attitude overall – which certainly isn’t going to help you climb the ladder. Rather than tackling new projects with energy and enthusiasm, when you haven’t slept well, you’re far more likely to see a task as a burden and grumble your way through.
You Take More Sick Days
One of the physical side effects of sleep deprivation is that it does a number on your immune system. This, of course, means that you’re more susceptible to catching a cold or worse, keeping you out of the office. And while we all get sick from time to time, racking up sick days is certainly not the way to career success.
The workday equivalent of Catch 22
What’s most ironic about all of this is that work, more often than not, is one of the main contributors to sleep deprivation. Whether it’s late nights, early mornings, or workplace stress making you toss and turn, your office life can follow you to your bed. In fact, a study by the National Sleep Foundation suggested that a lack of workday productivity caused by sleep deprivation led people to continue to do work at home at night. This led to further sleep deprivation, thus creating a vicious cycle.
It can be a tricky dynamic to navigate, but what’s important to remember is that, no matter how much pressure you feel to stay up and get to inbox zero, you’ll be a much more valuable employee the next day—and much more pleasant coworker—if you click shut down and get some shut-eye.
The new path to success?
Work hard, play hard. It’s part of the American lexicon and embedded in our collective conscience. But if you want to get ahead, it’s becoming increasingly clear that you should also sleep hard. We suggest you start tonight.
Toss, turn, repeat. Just. Go. To. Sleep. Sometimes all the self-talk in the world won't get us to dreamland. In many cases, we can trace hard-fought sleep back to various life stressors: bad bosses at work, a relationship gone south, or any of the various worries that ail us. But, what about when we're calm like yogis (or just calm-ish will do) and we still can't sleep? We've assembled some underrated sleep ailments that could be keeping you awake.
1. You didn't exercise enough.
Sleep and exercise are two good things for your body that become even better when they're combined, and they often build upon each other. When you exercise, it makes your body tired. Likewise, when you sleep, your body restores itself and enhances the results from your exercise. One study found that exercise made participants sleep longer and spend more time in slow-wave sleep—the stage when you're consolidating memory and processing information.
An easy fix is to add some movement and activity to your day. It doesn't matter what kind: team sports, running solo, or hitting the gym; find an activity you enjoy and make it a consistent part of your routine. Your quality of sleep will benefit.
2. The pesky blue light from your electronics is keeping you awake.
Smartphones can have a mesmerizing glow, especially at night, but it turns out the type of light your screen is emitting was not designed for sweet slumber and that's why you can't sleep. Our devices emit wavelengths of light that are heavier on the blue light side of the spectrum and lacking in the natural light spectrum. This blue light, although lovely, affects your levels of melatonin—your body's natural "it's time to sleep" cocktail.
The fix: many devices now have a nighttime setting that gives light a orange glow (which doesn’t mess with your melatonin production like the blue light does). Or, you could try a radical approach and charge your phone away from bed. This would also force you out of bed sans-snooze if your phone doubles as your alarm. Win and win.
3. You're convinced caffeine doesn't affect you.
Even if you don't feel the familiar jolt of your first cup of joe when it's later in the day, caffeine still plays its sneaky tricks on your body's sleep process. Caffeine is a stimulant, which of course, is the opposite of what your body should be doing when it's time for bed. One study showed that even caffeine taken six hours before bedtime had a significant disruptive effect on sleep.
The fix: give yourself a hard cutoff on your coffee intake sometime in the afternoon, keeping in mind that even at a minimum of 6 hours before bed caffeine still has an effect on sleep. A conservative deadline would be to avoid caffeine after 3 p.m., but each person's sensitivity is going to vary.
4. Your room is too warm.
When it's time for bed, your body performs an elaborate "get ready to sleep" dance: your body produces the sleep-inducing melatonin hormone when it gets dark, a compound called adenosine kicks into overdrive, and your body's core temperature actually drops to initiate sleep. If your room, sheets, or pajamas are too warm, this can block or delay these triggers to fall asleep.
There are a few options for this fix: lower your thermostat, crack a window, sleep with cooler bedding, or stick one foot out from under the covers (this old trick is actually quite efficient in cooling the body). The optimal temperature: somewhere around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. You drank a glass of wine to help you fall asleep.
Sure, wine does wonders to calm nerves and alleviate the day's stresses, but drinking it to help you fall asleep might actually make your sleep quality worse. Studies have shown that alcohol does help you fall asleep quickly and sleep more deeply...at first. Alcohol before bed reduces REM sleep—the time of night we dream and when the body actually restores itself.
The fix: swap out your nightcap for something a little more sleep-friendly like chamomile tea or a tall glass of water.
6. Your mattress isn't actually comfortable.
An often overlooked aspect of poor sleep is actually right under most people's noses, err…bodies: their mattress. One study showed new mattresses both increased the quality of sleep and reduced back pain in participants. The mattress industry recommends replacement every 7-8 years, but many people should actually be able to tell when their mattress is no longer comfortable or providing proper support. If you're waking up with back pain that wasn't there when you fell asleep, it's probably high time for a new option.
The obvious fix: find a mattress you love. We (of course) wholeheartedly recommend Reverie mattresses: especially for couples with different firmness preferences or specific pressure points that need extra customization. Whatever you end up choosing, just make sure you really find it exceedingly comfortable.
Rachel is a Michigan-based copywriter and editor who writes about sleep habits and sleep technology. When she’s not crafting content she enjoys all things outdoors and music. She is neither a morning person nor a night owl and has yet to finish a cup of coffee.
Last week I found myself down for the count with the flu. Yuck. It wasn’t like a truck ran over me. It was like a whole fleet of trucks. My nose felt like a hot air balloon was pumped up inside and straining to get out. My eyes itched. And my infamous attack sneeze was unrelenting. It comes on like a $135K Tesla. 0-60 in a half a second, then it explodes. Not fun.
So here’s the thing. Being an optimist, I never for one second considered how great my bed might be when I’m sick. But it merits a totally overused word: awesome. Awe. Some. And then some.
Outsmarting your runny nose
No sleeping flat, where all the nasty stuff could take up residence in my lungs and maybe lead to pneumonia. No propping myself up with pillows that inevitably pop out, compact, or wedge into a sweaty uncomfortable shape. Nope, I raised the head of my bed up to about level 40, put my softest pillow under my head and actually slept most of the night on my back. Just to repeat; I didn’t toss and turn, endlessly coughing with a throbbing forehead… my usual flu modus operandi. Instead I slept. On my back. Quite the achievement for a side sleeper, btw.
Sleeping better with the flu
Another thing. Those charming aches and pains you get with the flu. They hurt me a lot less when I retreated into my bed. I scooted over to the soft side of my mattress (the other side is medium) and pulled my duvet up under my chin. And I felt like those foam springs cuddled everything that was sore. Even though I never nap mid-day, I crawled into bed in the early afternoon, too heavy-headed to draw the shades. I put the bed in Zero Gravity and slept for several hours.
I’ll lay a little science on you now. The experts agree. Sleep is something that’s proven to be good medicine for the flu. And according to Scientific American in their blog post, “Can a good night’s sleep prevent a cold?,” there’s also overwhelming evidence that great sleep helps to prevent colds and flu. So the more you know about sleep, the more amazing it is. For practically all aspects of your health.
So, to sum up. I know I work for Reverie. Read this with a jaded eye if you must. But, as most people here know, I am a truth teller, lol. Can I say I actually enjoyed the flu? No. That would be ridiculous. But I was way, way less miserable with the flu in my Reverie bed. Based on plenty of personal experience with flu and sinus infections, I honestly think I cut my downtime in half. So when I think of reasons I love my new bed, I’m filing this one under #grateful.
Part of an ongoing series where our in-house blogger shares her personal experience with our products.