How to Sleep Well—or Stay Awake When You Don’t

Everyone likes to sleep. Everyone needs to sleep. But not everyone gets to sleep. Maybe your newborn kept you up last night, or you have a huge work deadline tomorrow, or you’re anxious about something in your life. Your work-life balance is not always within your control, so here are some tips on how to prepare for enough sleep, and, when that’s not an option, how to function with little to none of it.

How to Ensure You Sleep Well

There are a number of steps you can take to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Set a Bedtime

Try to establish a set bedtime. There’s a reason we do this for children: the circadian rhythm is your body’s natural clock, and your body performs its best on this routine. In turn, if you go to bed early enough, your body will naturally wake on its own, and you won’t feel groggy or need to hit the snooze alarm four times every morning.

Establish Night and Morning Routines

Shut off all screens—phones, tablets, TVs—an hour before you go to bed. The blue-hued light your electronic gadgets give off tells your body that it’s not the time for sleep yet.

Researchers found that participants using iPads displayed reduced levels of melatonin, a hormone that typically increases in the evening and helps induce sleepiness. They took longer to fall asleep, and spent less time in restorative REM, or rapid-eye movement, sleep.

In addition, the iPad readers reported being sleepier and less alert the following morning, even after eight hours of sleep. They also displayed delayed circadian rhythms.

Don’t drink too much alcohol right before bed, or it could interrupt your sleep.

Take a warm bath, or read. Treat yourself gently so that your body starts to understand the rituals involved with preparing to go to sleep.

Treat Your Body Right

Caffeine continues to stimulate your body long after you stop drinking it. Stop consuming any caffeine at least six hours before your bedtime. Eat a healthy, balanced diet full of whole grains, protein, fats, and fruits and vegetables. And try to limit stress as much as possible, whether that’s through exercise, diet, or massage. Brief meditation sessions may also help ease insomnia.

The study, which appears in this week’s JAMA Internal Medicine, included 49 middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping. Half completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught them meditation and other exercises designed to help them focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.” The other half completed a sleep education class that taught them ways to improve their sleep habits.

Both groups met six times, once a week for two hours. Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions.

What Getting No or Too Little Sleep Does to Your Body

Not getting enough sleep is terrible for your body and your mind.

When you’re deprived of sleep, your brain can’t function properly, affecting your cognitive abilities and emotional state … Chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with balance, coordination, and decision-making abilities … Sleep deprivation is dangerous to your mental and physical health and can dramatically lower your quality of life.

Impaired cognitive decision-making abilities definitely won’t help your law practice. Clients are paying you for the knowledge you have and how you impart that knowledge to them and other parties. Getting by on little to no sleep does not help in being zealous advocates for your clients.

When the All-Nighter Just Wasn’t Avoidable

So, you read this article, had best-laid plans, but still didn’t get any sleep last night. Here are a few tips on how to survive your day.

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Breakfast, Including Some Caffeine

Your body’s going to crave simple carbohydrates because you’re tired, but try to resist; choices like protein, fat, and whole grains will give you more sustained energy. Drink a little coffee to jumpstart your system. If you don’t do caffeine, water works surprisingly well at alerting your body to wake up, too.

Get outside

Today probably isn’t the day to go for your morning run, but get outside anyway. Eat your breakfast on the patio. Sit outside for a few minutes. Take the dog for a short walk. The natural light will energize you.

Surrounding yourself with as much bright light, especially natural light, as possible will help you feel more alert, explains Sean Drummond, a psychiatrist at the Laboratory of Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience at University of California, San Diego. “First thing in the morning is one of the most important times,” he said. “It’ll boost alertness, it’ll up your body temperature, it’ll reset your circadian rhythms.”

Get the Hardest Things Out of the Way First

You’re not going to get any less tired throughout the day, so start with your toughest tasks and handle the easier stuff when you’re starting to fade.

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Lunch

Sound familiar? Again, no simple carbohydrates. Instead, eat vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. A lunch that’s too heavy will only serve to make you feel more tired, and you don’t need that.

Take a Power Nap

If you have an office with a door or another place to grab a snooze, take a 20-minute power nap for a great energy boost.

Power naps can alleviate our so-called sleep deficits, but they can also boost our brains, including improvements to creative problem solving, verbal memory, perceptual learning, object learning, and statistical learning. They help us with math, logical reasoning, our reaction times, and symbol recognition.

Work in a Different Location

Sometimes a change of scenery is necessary to shake things up. Choose a different branch of your co-working space. If you work from home, consider working outside on your patio. Do not work inside in your pajamas. A coffee shop with ambient noise might be enough to keep you awake, just until the end of the day, when hopefully you can go home and get a good night’s sleep.

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