You spend roughly 36 percent of your life in a subconscious state of sleep.
Therefore, if you live to be 80, that equates to roughly 29 years of shut eye.
If you’re going to spend 29 years doing something, you better get good at it.
However, it turns out many adults are incredibly poor time managers and never truly experience quality sleep.
Eight hours a night of sound, restful sleep is an illusion dreamed about by most, but it's rarely ever acquired.
In the 1950s, most people were averaging eight hours of sleep nightly. Now, a little over six and a half is considered typical.
If we look at things on a mathematical basis, this means we’ve missed almost half a day of sleep by the end of a full week.
By the end of a full calendar year, you’ve essentially “lost” almost 23 full days of sleep.
Because of this, many people reportedly experience “microsleeps” throughout the day, when the brain enters a state of subconscious activity for a brief period of time.
In layman’s terms, this is commonly referred to as “nodding off.”
Rest assured, though, sleep negligence will catch up with you.
Sleep debt is cumulative and affects a whole host of physiological factors, from brain processing and information consolidation to glucose metabolism and even preferences regarding nutrition.
I’m sure you’ve read a few articles on sleep, and you’ve tried to implement their suggestions to no avail.
Nevertheless, here are some simple, practical solutions:
1. Out of sight, out of mind?
You know you’re supposed to put your cell phone on silent and turn it face down in order to prevent yourself from seeing incoming calls, texts or notifications.
But have you ever considered your cell phone might still be stimulating your brain, despite the fact you’re not actively looking at it?
Turns out your cell phone is constantly sending and receiving data throughout the day, even without your knowledge.
Studies have shown cell phone usage and data transmission can influence brain wave patterns, stimulate specific areas of the brain and negatively affect sleep quality.
Takeaway: Shut off your cell phone completely at night, or turn it on silent and place it roughly 10 feet away from your head.
2. Stop looking at your alarm clock.
You ever have one of those nights when you wake up to use the restroom and check the time, only to find yourself still awake two hours later?
The concept of mental math can be incredibly damaging to your sleep hygiene.
Once your brain begins to actively problem solve, you’ll notice just how quickly you can become wrapped up in your own thoughts.
If you eliminate the potential to look at the clock, you won’t have to subject yourself to nocturnal math problems that are guaranteed to keep you awake.
Not only that, brightness is often correlated with alertness.
As such, the light emitted from many alarm clocks can be stimulatory by nature, thus compounding the already complex slumber issue at hand.
Takeaway: Cover your alarm clock with a piece of clothing or simply move it to another room.
Hold yourself accountable, and don’t check any clocks when you’re awake in the middle of the night.
3. Relax into your breath.
You’re probably sitting down as your read this, aren’t you? Perform a quick self-assessment on your breathing:
Are you breathing through your nose or mouth?
Are you breathing shallow and fast or deep and slow?
When you inhale, are you pulling air into your upper chest or using your diaphragm for efficient respiration?
Which rises first, your chest or your stomach?
Can you feel your upper back inflate when you inhale?
Breathing is an incredibly complex and unappreciated process that occurs within your body over 15,000 times a day.
However, most don’t realize the influence breathing has on the autonomic nervous system.
It’s somewhat of a chicken or the egg phenomenon.
Does your central nervous system cause your breathing rate to increase, or can your rate of respiration influence nervous system tone?
Well, the answer is both.
If you’re walking down a dark alley with a friend, and he or she mentions someone was mugged in this same alley the night before, what do you think is going to happen to your senses?
To put things mildly, they’re going to go through the roof.
You’ll probably also notice your breathing get very shallow, and respiration will primarily occur through just the mouth.
Say hello to your sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
This guy is in place to make sure you have the available resources necessary to escape any hairy encounters with bad guys in dark alleys, lions in Africa or commuters in LA traffic.
However, given the high-stress environment our culture thrives upon, it’s very easy to get “stuck” in this sympathetic dominant tone.
It becomes even tougher to regulate your nervous system and promote restful sleep.
Enter your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
This guy is the polar opposite of the sympathetic system.
It’s primarily responsible for rest and digestion. Therefore, it only becomes active when SNS tone is regulated.
While you’re sitting in a chair reading this, focus on taking a few long, slow, deep breaths, and make your exhales twice as long as your inhales.
Did you notice your heart rate slowing down over time?
If you’re really good at “shutting down” and getting yourself to relax, you may have noticed you began to salivate slightly.
Remember how I mentioned PNS controls digestion?
Well, when you begin to shift your nervous system balance, your body prepares for digestion by regulating the first stage of digestion (i.e. saliva within the oral cavity).
Takeaway: If you find yourself hyped up right before going to sleep, take some time to focus on diaphragmatic breathing.
Lie in a prone position on your stomach with your hands under your forehead, and focus on expanding your ribcage, while having your stomach push into the floor with each breath.
Simply make your exhales twice as long as your inhales, and try to focus primarily on the rhythm of your breath.
4. Get creative.
Before the invention of the light bulb, people would go to bed as the sun was going down and wake up at the first light.
However, given the increase in technology, we’ve essentially “short-circuited” this natural light and dark cycle, which helped to regulate circadian rhythms.
This can become especially tricky when you’re traveling, as we all know foreign environments can lead to restless nights and a lack of REM sleep.
Whether you’re on vacation or a business trip, it can be tough to gear down because you’re not used to the sights and sounds in the area.
In an ideal world, you would be able to generate a perfect sleep environment by turning your bedroom into a pseudo “cave-like” atmosphere.
This can be accomplished by lowering your thermostat slightly, installing black out curtains and utilizing a white noise generator.
However, if you’re traveling, there’s probably a pretty good chance you won’t have access to some of these options.
You can remedy the white noise conundrum by simply using ear plugs, but the blackout curtains aren’t quite as easy to replicate (unless you get creative).
Here’s the solution: Pack an extra t-shirt when you travel.
Simply cut off one of the sleeves from the shirt, and wear it like a sleep mask when you’re looking to block out ambient light.
Not only that, the tee can help to cover your ear canals and prevent the earplugs from falling out when you roll over in your sleep.
Takeaway: Get creative, and solve your sleep issues by using simple, cost-effective solutions.
Can’t sleep with anything in your ears? Here’s the best of both worlds (for a slight price): SleepPhones.
5. Open up your pipes.
Brain oxygenation during sleep may be one of the most undervalued factors affecting sleep quality.
If you’ve ever struggled with sleep apnea or snoring, you know how frustrating it can be to feel like your own body is robbing you of restful sleep.
As I’ve already discussed above, breathing (especially through the nose) is incredibly important when it comes to neural tone, as well as oxygen saturation within the blood stream.
However, if your airway becomes blocked during sleep, then rest assured, your body is going to wake you up.
By using something as simple as a nasal strip (e.g. Breathe Right), you can help to enhance brain oxygenation and improve long-term sleep quality.
Takeaway: Nasal strips can help to make sleep more enjoyable for both you and your spouse by improving airflow (i.e. say goodbye to snoring), increasing oxygenation and reducing upper airway resistance.
Sleep sound, and skip the snooze.
Besides the increased motivation for everyday functions, sleep offers a host of metabolic and physiological benefits.
However, it can be one of the most frustrating habits to master.
Technology seems to only complicate the matter, as social media keeps us up until all hours of the night, frittering away our precious shut-eye.
At the end of the day, most of us have time to sleep more.
We just choose the short-term satisfaction of Netflix or Instagram over the long-term benefits of quality sleep.
Remember: In the end, excellence occurs through a relentless application of the basics.
Implement these five simple tips, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to improve your sleep with just a few small modifications.