You Probably Need More Sleep
4 tactics to help you get better sleep.
Posted May 26, 2022 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk
- Sleep is the bedrock of both physical and mental health.
- Anxiety causes sleeplessness, and sleeplessness exacerbates anxiety.
- The CDC recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep, and more than a third of Americans rarely reach that mark.
You probably already know that you should be getting more sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep, and more than a third of Americans rarely reach that mark. But the actual amount many need to feel truly rested and healthy is eight hours, and you might need as much as nine hours. Moreover, sleep can often feel less important than other valuable self-care—for example, getting up early to exercise or staying up later to enjoy some downtime after a hectic day. So should getting consistent, quality sleep come first? Yes.
Sleep is the bedrock of both physical and mental health. In his book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, neuroscientist Matthew Walker writes the following:
AMAZING BREAKTHROUGH! Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You'll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?
If a pill offered the same benefits we get from sleep, we'd take it—no question.
Many people think they're part of the population who need six hours or less of sleep. But since research shows that less than 1 percent of the population has the magical "short-sleep" gene, it's best to assume you aren't part of that rarified group. (This population also reports great moods, consistent energy, and upbeat moods—lucky ducks.)
Because insomnia and anxiety are intrinsically linked, you may be reading this thinking, "I'd love to get more sleep. I just can't." Sleeplessness and anxiety are close companions. Anxiety causes sleeplessness, and sleeplessness exacerbates anxiety.
I can relate. I've struggled with sleep since childhood. Once I started sleeping consistently, it made such a difference with my anxiety, energy, and ability to focus that I've been a sleep evangelist ever since. One of the questions I ask anyone struggling is, "How are you sleeping?"
There are many valuable checklists that outline the best sleep hygiene practices. But here are the four tactics you may not have tried that have made the most significant difference for me and many of my clients.
1. Focus on your transition to sleep.
It's best to have a consistent "wind-down" routine that doesn't involve screens. For me, it's a shower, tea, and reading. For you, it might be setting out tomorrow's clothes, light stretching, and meditation or prayer. Decide when you will start winding down, and then set a reminder alarm to help you get started. Figure out what you like best, and then stick to it like it's your religion. I'm so attached to a particular type of tea (Yogi Bedtime Tea) that I keep a box of it with my luggage so I don't forget it when I travel.
2. Start a "worry journal."
If your mind starts to spin at night, keep a worry notebook by your bed. As part of your bedtime routine, write down every single troublesome thought. Let it be an exhaustive list. If you start ruminating once you've settled in to sleep, remind yourself that all your worries are on the list, and you'll think about them more in the morning. Very often, the simple act of writing concerns down gives us the distance we need to let them go for the time being and get some rest.
3. Go to bed earlier.
Try to add sleep by going to bed earlier instead of sleeping later. Most people have a hard start time in the morning, whereas evenings are often more flexible. Also, our mood tends to decline throughout the evening. Many people, especially those dealing with depression, have the lowest mood at night. And because our willpower dwindles as we get tired, we might try to soothe ourselves in ways that worsen our problems. Think of times you've acted out and said something you regret. Chances are you were over-stressed and over-tired. Most substance abuse, binge eating, compulsive shopping, sexual recklessness, doom scrolling, and unproductive arguing happens at night. If you go to bed earlier, you might save many regrets.
4. Take a nap.
People are often shocked when I suggest they try to schedule a nap in their day. It says a lot about our overworked, go-go-go culture: Laying down for 30 minutes during an otherwise productive day feels subversive. Of course, there are many jobs where even putting your head down on your desk, let alone stretching out, is impossible. But if you can rest your eyes and mind in the middle of the day, even if you don't fall asleep, your afternoon will be transformed.
Another benefit of napping is that it removes some of the anxiety of ongoing insomnia or a restless night. You've probably had the experience of stressing so much that you aren't falling asleep that the stress itself keeps you awake. If you know you've scheduled time the next day to nap, you'll feel less anxious about being awake, which will help you fall asleep.
High-quality, consistent sleep is powerful medicine. Taking control of your sleep schedule and prioritizing rest is the next right step toward improving your physical and emotional health.
The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep.
―Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
Walker, M. (2018). Why We Sleep. New York, NY. Simon & Schuster.