For the overachievers whose immediate instinct upon hearing that is to cut back on their sleep so they can start on some of the foregoing activites, we promise you: This time is all very well spent.
It's National Sleep Awareness Week, and here's why good sleep is so important:
- It improves our memory (our brain doesn't shut down during sleep but rather goes into overdrive, like a computer sorting through its memory).
- It has the potential to double our problem-solving skills.
- It increases our ability to empathize with others.
- It heightens our sex drive.
- It’s associated with a higher IQ in kids.
In fact, just one night without sleep leaves us performing at the same level as having a blood alcohol level of 0.08. Which means that more sleep can help you be even more of the sober-eyed, kind-hearted, and sexually active genius you are.
However, according to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of Americans say that they experience a sleep problem like waking up too early, snoring, or not feeling refreshed. If you can't find more time to sleep, our goal is to help you at least improve the quality of your sleep so that you get the most out of each hour of slumber.
Here are three ways to get better sleep:
Problem: Artificial Lights Messing With Your Sleep Patterns
F.lux Software, Free.
The Situation: Our bodies' natural circadian rhythms are heavily influenced by light, which is why exposure to all the artificial light from computer screens throws our bodies out of whack. According to Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School, "Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour--making it more difficult to fall asleep." Our bodies register blue light--whether from a blue sky or a blue computer screen--as a cue to be more alert. Interestingly enough, we don't have the same reaction to reddish light, since we're evolutionarily programmed to make fires at night (which don't keep us awake).
The Solution: Install a free software called f.lux onto your computer, which constantly adjusts your screen's lighting depending on the time of day, to get your body more in touch with its primal reactions to light. Enter your zip code, and f.lux will automatically adjust your screen to match the level of natural light in your area. During the day, it keeps your computer looking blue, bright, and alert, whereas it gives it a rosier tinge as your surroundings get darker. The light shifts are pretty subtle, but you'll notice the biggest changes during the sunset and sunrise hours.
The Benefits: Get your body back in touch with its natural circadian rhythms.
Best For: Those who sit in front of a computer monitor all day long--and use it regularly at night. Your computer screen is messing with your body's natural sleep rhythms, so use this to help you get back on track.
Problem: Waking Up With An Alarm Makes You Groggy
Sleeptracker Wake Up Monitor, $99.
The Situation: Each night's sleep is made of cycles of deep sleep, light sleep, and REM (dream) sleep. Your grogginess in the morning depends in large part on which stage of your sleep cycle your alarm interrupts--ideally you want to be woken during light sleep. Even if that means waking up 10 minutes earlier, it means you'll actually be less drowsy in the morning.
The Solution: A digital watch that monitors your sleep patterns in order to wake you up when you’re at a light phase of your sleep cycle. Let's say that the latest you can afford to wake up is 7:30 am, and the earliest you're willing to be woken up is 7:00 am. Before bed, you'd set the "alarm window"--and press a button to indicate when you're heading off to bed. The watch will monitor your body to find the best time within that 30-minute window to wake you up so that you're the least drowsy. We do wish the alarm were a bit louder, so consider setting a backup alarm if you’re a heavy sleeper.
The Benefits: You’ll feel more refreshed when you get up and finally overcome that pathological need to hit the snooze button.
Best For: Those who hate waking up in the morning. This little device might take the edge off.
Problem: Great Sleep One Night, Toss & Turn The Next.
Zeo Sleep Monitor, $200.
The Situation: Two out of three nights you sleep well, but you're not sure what's causing the restlessness on that third night. It could be that you had a few drinks that evening, drank too much caffeine during the day, or your dog kept bugging you during the night. Just as important as how long you sleep each night is how well you sleep and how much REM you get compared to lighter levels of sleep.
The Solution: A sleep device that breaks down your sleep quantity and quality to help you understand the factors that go into how well you sleep each night. Start by wearing a lightweight wireless headband at night (not the sexiest nighttime gear, but your sleep is at stake!), which transmits your brainwave data to a bedside display clock. The data is stored in an SD memory card, similar to one you'd find in a digital camera. Using a USB adapter that comes with the product, you can log in to the Zeo website and upload the data from your card. This lets you figure out what helps and hurts your sleep at a glance, since you can compare your sleep charts to your Zeo sleep journal that records factors like caffeine, alcohol, anxiety, and more. Similar to the less expensive Sleeptracker, Zeo also has a "SmartWake" alarm feature that goes off at the optimal time for you to wake up.
The Benefits: Once you know how your behaviors are affecting your sleep, you can tweak your lifestyle to ensure that you get the best rest possible. Although you could track good versus bad sleep nights on your own to try to figure out patterns, Zeo's big value add is the information that you can't learn by yourself, like time spent in REM or the number of times you nearly woke up.
Best For: Although the ticket price is rather steep, this may be a helpful tool for those with erratic sleep patterns and who really need to make the most of their precious sleep time.