I don’t normally write articles. But I’ve been having some trouble sleeping the last few days and I’m getting pretty tired, not to mention cranky. It’s unusual for me to not sleep well. Sleep health is something I feel strongly about because I know the effects it has when you don’t get enough sleep – the very slow deterioration of mental and physical health. I needed a reminder today of the importance of sleep, and the things I can do to help me sleep better. And naturally, I wanted to share what I found out and what I’ve learned from experience with you.
You’d think people would know how to sleep. It ought to be common knowledge, right? Everybody sleeps.
But according to the CDC, Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic.
It doesn’t surprise me either. How many times a day do you hear someone say, “I’m so tired,” or “I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” or “I wish I could take a nap right now.”
If you work at Google or another corporation smart enough to have installed nap pods (see featured image above), nap time is a REALITY. Just like in Kindergarten! Except fancier.
The CDC estimates that 50-70 million US adults have a sleeping or wakefulness disorder (see article link at the top of this post). These disorders can lead to some nasty fatigue, which causes stress (harmful in and of itself), and leads people to do stupid things like take out aggression on co-workers or fall asleep while driving.
The months of April and May are the times of year that teachers and students experience the most exhaustion. Being a teacher and a recent college grad, I am all too familiar with the burnout that comes with this season just before summer break arrives.
Exhaustion takes place in every type of work environment. Please leave a comment if the work you’re doing doesn’t ever wear you out. I want to know!
As a substitute teacher and former college student, I hear the most about how tired teachers and students get around this time of year. I experience it myself. By the time May arrives, and sometimes earlier, teachers and students alike are experiencing great fatigue. May tends to be the busiest month of the school year with exams, performances, meetings and fundraisers, and it can be psychologically difficult to keep up when the promise of summer is just around the corner.
Has exhaustion hit you yet?
If it has, sleep is your most effective defense.
I’m no sleep doctor, but I know what works for me. If I’m able to get enough sleep and sleep well, I am a nicer person, a happier person, and more focused throughout the day. (Did you know they actually measure employee focus or lack thereof? It’s called LPT, or lost productive time.) So as a friend, here are some of my ideas to help you sleep your best and feel good when you’re awake for everyone’s sake. I will be keeping these at the front of my mind the next few days.
1. Be mentally and physically active during the day.
In my opinion, the best way to fall asleep quickly and get a good night’s sleep is to have expended a good amount of energy during the day. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem for most people! A good mix of mental and physical energy seems to work the best, however, so if you find yourself sitting for countless hours throughout the day working or doing whatever it is you do, take a few moments during the day or a solid 30-45 minutes to walk, exercise, or stretch – do something physically active. It’ll help you fall asleep later. (This is great motivation for me.)
Personal anecdote: When I was studying Music Education in college, I had to be in the practice rooms practicing piano for hours every day. Imagine the tedium and stiffness… okay I’ll stop whining. Anyway, I would make myself take breaks every 45 minutes or so to walk around the music building to get some oxygen flowing and to keep my muscles from getting too sore from sitting. Those little walks gave me the extra boost of energy I needed to keep practicing. I also ended up running into people I knew and would get to say ‘hi’ or have a little conversation with them which kept me feeling chipper – so it was a mental/physical win-win.
2. Slow down before trying to fall asleep.
Give yourself at least an hour before bed to rest, i.e. not exercising, not eating dinner, and not working. It will help you relax and be able to sleep well. In college, sometimes it would be impossible to allow myself time for this after completing homework very late at night. In those situations, I would be so tired that falling asleep was never the problem – it was the amount of sleep I got that was the issue. This takes us to my next suggestion.
3. Don’t stay up later than absolutely necessary.
When I started noticing that my sleep deprivation was making me an angry, sad person in college, I instituted a homework boundary for myself. I had already maxed out the efficiency of my time management. Something had to give. Call me crazy, but junior year of college I made the decision that if I wasn’t done with my homework by midnight, it would just have to wait, no matter the impending due date. My mental and emotional wellbeing outweighed the importance of the grades for me. This might not be the right decision for everyone, but my mental health under the pressure of taking 19 credit hours every semester was questionable enough that I felt this was the right thing to do, and it made a tremendous impact on my happiness! A girl’s got to have priorities. I still got my degree.
4. Try stretching, reading, or taking a shower before bed.
Do something relaxing. Taking a shower will warm up your muscles and help you feel relaxed, especially if there are some soothing bath products involved! Lavender is an essential oil that is known to help ease anxiety and is associated with sleep. Organic Facts’ website has a really interesting article that can tell you all about lavender. They say it can be used to treat migraines, headaches, depression, nervous tension and emotional stress, beyond helping people with sleeping disorders.
Stretching may help you feel more comfortable under the covers, and reading something light is a sure path to nodding off at night. I so habitually read books before falling asleep these last few years that I think I trained my consciousness to click off whenever I pick up a book when it’s close to bed time.
5. Set regular sleeping hours for yourself.
Take a lesson from the tides, the moon phases, and seasons of the year. Be regular and predictable with your sleeping rhythm and go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. It’s good for you!
If you’re reading this during the day, this might be your cue to get up and take a walk break. Go drink some water while you’re at it. Or if it’s late in the evening, it might be time to turn off the computer and cozy up with a good book under the covers (after you go brush your teeth of course).
Remember every day that sleep is an important part of your health, and you are the one person in control of the decisions you make to help or hinder it. Here’s wishing you the best sleep ever and the happiest days of life that it can bring!
P.S. You can find this at the Daily Post Challenge for “Student, Teacher.”