The Importance of Sleeping Well
Let’s focus on something you spend nearly one-third of your life doing… sleep!
Well, it should be one third if you’re serious about the importance of quality sleep. Sleep recommendations change by age, but if you’re over 18 years old, you should be sleeping 7-9 hours a night.
The consensus shows we are getting one hour less than Americans slept in the 1940s. That’s missing out on 15 days of sleep each year!! Chronic sleep deprivation affects cognitive function, overall body health, testosterone, and mood.
I tried burning the candle at both ends, cratered, and then made a full recovery. I hope my story and our seven reasons to get at least 7 hours of sleep will shed light on the importance of sleeping well.
the importance of sleeping well
My Sleep Deprivation Story
The importance of sleeping well is a big topic of discussion, learning, and experimenting in our household.
In mid-2017, at 28 years old, I woke up every morning feeling exhausted. Throughout the day, I was fatigued and stressed.
At this time, I had been getting 6 hours of sleep for nearly three years to cover my two jobs. Finally, it seemed, my body had reached its breaking point.
Six hours of sleep used to be plenty, and energy was never an issue. Frustrated, I visited a sleep specialist in Fort Worth who thought I had sleep apnea. That didn’t seem right. So I went to another doctor and started researching sleep feverishly.
I was getting blood tests to check my vitamin D levels. Eventually, I had one doctor also test for my testosterone levels. Since this is a hormone your body produces while asleep, I figured it might be low.
I was right, and the doctor was puzzled because I exercised, didn’t drink frequently, wasn’t overweight, and ate well.
Two different doctors immediately offered me testosterone replacement therapy through injections, which seemed like a semi-horrifying band-aid fix. I decided to do my research to get to the bottom of this the natural way.
Read the full story: Burnout and low testosterone in my 20’s.
My Trial and Error Recovery Journey
It seemed simple. I have low testosterone, and testosterone develops while asleep. It was simple. I now understood the importance of quality sleep.
So, we went on a crusade to find the best products and implement the best processes to improve sleep quality.
We experimented with products such as:
- Blackout curtains
- Sleep sound machines
- Expensive pillows
- Eye masks
- New mattress
In parallel, we experimented with processes such as:
- Journaling daily
- Eating gluten-free
- Increasing meat consumption (I was 95% vegetarian when I learned I was low T)
- Cut out alcohol completely
- Not drinking caffeine after noon
- Eliminating dairy and casein-based supplements
- Dimmed the blue light on my phone and computer
- Stop working on the computer at least 1 hour before bed
Again, I’ll talk about which products and processes helped me sleep well later on in this article.
Of course, we made a hard rule to sleep for 8 hours every night. No excuses. This changed our entire nighttime routine, but we made sure to unplug by 9:00 PM and be in bed by 10:00 PM.
Our new schedule gave us the 8 hours before our 6:00 AM morning workouts.
How Long Would This Journey Be?
Let’s do some quick math: I was sleeping 6 hours nightly for three years when I should have been sleeping 8.
Two hours of debt per night = 60 hours of debt per month = one month of debt per year.
I would have had to sleep for a full three months straight to get caught up! But, I know that that’s not how it works. And I accepted that this was going to take a long time.
After 6-8 months, my sleep quality started to improve. Recovering from sleep deprivation is like weight loss. To lose weight at a healthy rate, it takes just as long as it did to gain.
My Results of Sleeping Well
Since then, ten months later, I feel amazing, energetic, focused, and alive. Additionally, my testosterone has more than doubled. Yes, doubled, and is well into the healthy range for my age.
We’ve also come across a lot more people like me who were hurting their bodies from lack of sleep.
One of them is our business mentor, Chalene Johnson, who gave herself self-induced moderate brain damage from chronic sleep deprivation.
Do you have sleep debt? If so, we suggest you do everything you can to make up for it right away!
Next up, our reasons to get a 7-hour plus, quality night sleep followed by our products and processes to help you sleep well.
7 reasons to get at least 7 hours of sleep
We all know that we need sleep to survive, but what happens when we sleep? Did you know that all living creatures sleep? Mother Nature is smart, and absolutely nobody has evolved their way out of sleeping.
Scientists believe that humans have evolved to get more REM sleep than any other species. So, is it our quality sleep that makes us so smart and advanced?
That is likely the case. Here are seven motivating reasons to respect sleep and learn how to sleep better.
1. Your Brain Cleans House
Recently discovered in 2012, the glymphatic system is like a washing machine for your brain.
It is nearly ten times more active while you sleep and cleanses your brain of toxins (such as the amyloid plaques linked with Alzheimer’s disease.)
2. Your Brain Cements Memories
Sleeping helps strengthen memories and what knowledge you’ve learned throughout the day.
When you’re sleeping, your brain will reprocess the memories and also link them to memories, which is why you’re better at problem-solving after a good night’s sleep.
3. Anti-Aging Beauty
While we’re in the deep cycles of sleep, body tissues renew, oxygen metabolism increases, and our bodies produce more collagen and protein than the daytime which, in turn, makes our skin more elastic.
That’s why all of Alex’s bridal magazines recommended sleeping more!
4. Sleep Promotes Weight Loss
Research shows that getting less than six hours of sleep increases the production of the appetite hormone, ghrelin, and limits leptin, which helps control food intake.
That’s why a few late nights make it easier for you to grab the donuts and binge on snack foods.
5. Sleep Strengthens Your Immune System
A 2009 Carnegie Mellon study showed that people who slept less than 7-hours a night were three times more likely to catch the common cold than their peers sleeping 8 hours or more a night.
6. Lack of Sleep Increases Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Lack of sleep increases insulin resistance in fat cells, making it harder for your body to process properly.
Remember the glymphatic system we mentioned in #1? Consuming insulin late in the day (yes, that includes your carbohydrates) makes it harder for your brain to flush out toxic byproducts because it is busy flushing away the insulin.
7. Lack of Sleep Increases Heart Disease
With the stress and strain of limited sleep, your body needs to produce more chemicals to keep up (and keep you awake and focused.)
Research out of Warwick Medical School in 2011 shows that people with less than 6 hours of sleep are 48% more likely to develop heart disease.
Now that we’ve established that you need to sleep, how can you sleep better?
First, try this weekly Sleep Checklist from HelpGuide.org to track your sleep with tips on how to sleep well. In the next section, we’ll talk about what has helped up improve our sleep.
sleep products and processes that worked
For us, what works best is setting a routine. Meaning, go to bed at the same time every night, unplugging one hour prior, finishing dinner at least two hours before bed, and making sleep a priority. We seldom get less than 8 or 9 hours of sleep.
These are our favorite processes and products that have helped us get higher quality sleep.
Sleep Improvement Products
These are products that proved useful, and we continue to use today.
1. A Sleep Mask
We sleep with one every night. If you consistently have blackout curtains, then you don’t need this.
“Escape” Sleep Masks by Dream Essentials is our favorite, tried-and-true face mask. It provides a total blackout with no pressure on your eyelids.
It’s also quality and will last you a long time. Others we tried didn’t last, like the popular Bucky 40 Blinks, which wore out and delaminated after two months.
Frustrated, I contacted the company to help them with their glue. They explained that face masks were “disposable” and needed to be replaced every 3-months. Our Earth already has too much waste!
We’ve been happily using this mask for years.
2. A Good Pillow
MyPillow was our favorite brand of pillow and are much cheaper than some of the memory foam ones we tried. It worked well to have these on our bed at home, as well as two travel-sized pillows when we were away.
We did a ton of research before choosing these. Alex loves that they’re machine washable!
Now that we are traveling in South America, we sleep with our travel-sized pillows every night. We don’t always have the same mattress, but it helps to have a consistent pillow.
3. A Sound Machine
Sleep Sound Machine by Marpac Dohm is a must. You can’t underestimate the impact of white noise to drown out cars, drunk people, dogs barking, or loud bass from a nearby bar. This one is great for your nightstand at home.
Now that we live out of suitcases, we use a travel-sized sound machine. It’s quality, and we use it every night.
A sound machine might even be a good option for your pets. We housesat for two dogs that would bark in the middle of the night. Once we turned on a sound machine, they were quiet all night.
4. A Quality Mattress
We went all in and bought a Tempur-Pedic. They are expensive, but if you buy last years model off the floor, you can generally save 50%.
Also, we ended up selling ours on Craigslist before we left for South America. We got the same price we paid, and we slept on it for a year and a half. A quality mattress is essential.
I appreciate quality mattresses more and more as we live in rental properties and hotels while traveling. If I have a bad mattress, I get back pain that disrupts the quality of my sleep.
Read more: Is Your Mattress Causing Back Pain?
5. An Honorable Mention
Essential Oil Diffuser by URPOWER with 5-8 drops of lavender oil every night helped me fall asleep quickly.
Having this diffuser on our bedside table was calming. It’s only an honorable mention because we didn’t pack it for our travels. When we settle down, I will unpack and enjoy it again.
Sleep Improvement Processes
These are processes that have now become habits for us. These are the things that undoubtedly helped up improve the quality of our sleep. The sleep processes are in order of importance.
1. Cut Out Alcohol
This is the number one most important process to improve the quality of your sleep.
Data summarized in the book Why We Sleep shows that brain activity while sleeping after a couple drinks matches that of an unconscious brain, not a sleeping brain. That’s not good, because you’re not capitalizing on the benefits of sleep.
I have tracked and gathered data on my sleep numerous times. The data and how I feel the next day are precise. Alcohol significantly reduces the quality of my sleep. Dehydration is also terrible for sleep quality, as we learned in our drinking a gallon of water a day results.
Read more: Alcohol and Weight Loss.
2. Unplug and Avoid Screens
This is the second most important consideration when your goal is to sleep well.
First, if you’re working up until bed, winding down and getting a quality night sleep is unlikely. You need to unplug, drink a bedtime tea (my favorite,) and have a conversation with your spouse, read a good book, or do yoga together.
Avoid all screens. The blue light that screens emit suppresses our melatonin production, the hormone we need to induce sleep.
As a precaution, all your screens should be changed to from blue light to orange light a couple of hours before bed. On Apple devices, you can do this through the “Do Not Disturb > Bedtime” settings.
What’s better, is the app called Flux. Download and use that on your devices.
3. Make A Sleep Sanctuary
Treat the bedroom as a sleep sanctuary. Nothing else. No TV, no phones, no computers, and nothing work related.
If you have a hard time with this, you need to practice unplugging from technology. Your sanctuary should have the above sleep products to ensure quiet, dark, and comfortable night’s rest.
The only other tool you need is your Q&A a Day: 3 Year Journal for 2 People. A journal we love that helps us end our days stress-free and strengthen our friendship.
A sleep sanctuary needs to be the right temperature. If your bedroom is too hot, you won’t sleep well. The recommended temperature is 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Don’t Over Stimulate
Limit caffeine intake and don’t be caffeinated too late in the day. Everyone is different, but I never have coffee after 2:00 PM.
I know the feeling of having to overstimulate to make it through the day. It’s what ultimately lead to burnout in my 20s.
To cut back on the caffeine to improve your sleep, drink more water, and take power naps. You’ll find that this is much more effective. If you’re drinking more than a cup a day, it’s a good idea to experiment with cutting back.
For help, we quit coffee cold turkey and share our hour by hour experimental results in this article, ‘Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline.’
5. Journal Your Day and Track
Get a simple, portable journal (I use these) and start writing down what you eat, how much you exercised, whether or not you drank enough water, etc. More details are better.
Then, when you wake up in the morning, journal about how you feel about your sleep. Did you fall asleep quickly or lay in bed for 30-minutes? Do you feel rested or drowsy?
Put detail and time into this, and soon you’ll start seeing what foods and habits are making you sleep better and worse. This strong accountability is the most powerful motivation.
We love data. I guess that is our engineering minds. Over time, we have taken our journaling to a more data-driven approach. We track our sleep with various apps.
You can do this with your phone, but if you have a wearable, like the Apple Watch, the data is better. Pillow is our favorite app.
We can look at the data in the morning and conclude our sleep. Like, “Those glasses of wine hurt my REM sleep,” or, “I think this tea is helping me fall into deep sleep more quickly.”
That’s all we have for now. Comment below if you do or do not sleep 8-hours a night. Also, do you have questions, stories, or sleep strategies? Please share those in the comments section as well. Sleep tight!
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I appreciate your data driven approach and the research you do. Sleep is a common topic in our house. One thing we seem to struggle with is the temperature in our sanctuary. Everything we’ve read agrees that cooler is better. But, if we drop it below 72, one of us shivers and can’t seem to get warm no matter what. Question: when you crank down to 65-68, how many layers are you sleeping with? PJs, sheets, blankets, etc? What have you read about this?
Hey Geoffrey, this is a great question. Since writing this article, Alex and I have been living in warmer and more humid environments. Now, we set the AC to 72 each night. At this temperature, I sleep in my boxers with just sheets and Alex wears pajamas with the sheets and a light comforter. We both track our sleep and a typical night is around 95% sleep quality (Pillow App).
Don’t worry about dropping the temperature if 72 feels comfortable. To be honest, I have been thinking about this a lot lately because my temperature fluctuates throughout the night and Alex runs hotter than me. We plan to test out the Pod Pro Cover by Eight Sleep this fall. Like you, sleep is very important in our house. Based on what I have read, I think investing in this kind of temperature optimization tech will be worth it. I will keep you posted!