We Asked a Sleep Expert 10 Questions About Improving Sleep Quality
by Dean Stattmann
If you listen to that productivity guru you follow on Instagram, you might not have the highest opinion of sleep. In our social media-fueled “rise and grind” culture, we are showered with productivity hacks and motivation to keep hustling, to keep making moves, to race towards our goals.
Of course, these are not inherently bad things. Unfortunately, for some reason, included in this rhetoric is the notion that sleep simply isn’t that important, with some high-profile entrepreneurs even bragging about how little sleep they get, wearing their under-eye bags as droopy badges of honor.
Let’s be clear: Sleep is important. In fact, getting enough quality sleep may be one of the most important things you can do for your health.
So, how can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your time between the sheets? Well, that’s what we wanted to know, so we skipped the social media “experts” and got in touch with Dr. Abhinav Singh, M.D., Medical Director of the Indiana Sleep Center and a member of the Sleep Foundation’s Medical Review Panel.
1. Hustle culture has portrayed sleep almost as a sort of weakness. We know that sleep makes us feel rested; aside from that, what are the actual benefits of sleep?
Sleeping less and overworking is often portrayed as a trophy, but the truth is that it is the exact opposite. The benefits of getting adequate amounts of sleep include head-to-toe restoration. Starting from the brain, this includes basically every tissue in our body. Muscle recovery, growth, memory consolidation, immune system support, metabolic health, and blood pressure regulation can all be impacted by our sleep routine. Chronic sleep deprivation may also have other long-lasting effects on our overall health.
2. Many of us grew up hearing that eight hours is ideal; then it became 7–9; and now we are told that optimal sleep duration is highly specific to the individual. How can someone determine the ideal amount of sleep that they need to function at their personal best?
Sleep needs can vary. Dr. Charles Bae, M.D. at Penn Medicine talks about having your own personal "sleep number.” For most adults, seven to nine hours of sleep are needed. You can determine precisely how much sleep you need by allowing your body to naturally fall asleep and naturally wake up over a span of two continuous weeks.
3. What are the primary factors that contribute to a good night's sleep
A combination of internal and external factors can contribute to a good night’s sleep. Internal factors pertain to your body and mind being free of ailments and busy thoughts. External factors include having a comfortable environment that is cool, dark, and quiet.
You can also prepare for a good night’s sleep prior to bed. Avoid heavy meals, strenuous exercise, binge-watching, smoking, alcohol, and bright lights prior to sleep. Instead, a wind-down routine can be very helpful. I find that my “4-Play” method (shower, journal, read, breathing exercises—for 15 min each) anchors my mind and preps my body for sleep. Repeatedly engaging in this routine may be a good place for you to start.
5. When is having trouble sleeping worth bringing to a professional?
You should speak to a doctor if the problem starts to become chronic and you find yourself worrying about sleep more than three times a week. You should also consider seeking a professional if your sleep problems have started to negatively impact your work or relationships. You can never go wrong by bringing up your sleep problems with your doctor. After all, you spend one third of your life asleep.
6. What does it mean if you wake up feeling tired?
If you are waking up feeling tired or run down, you are most likely not getting your optimal quantity or quality of sleep. When you get tired of feeling tired, it is time to talk to your doctor.
7. What are some of the knock-on effects of a poor night's sleep? How might it impact your body or mood the following day?
You might feel tired. You’ll probably have less energy, and may notice changes in your mood or cognition. You may also find changes in your appetite. Over time, without adequate sleep, it nay be difficult to maintain your normal way of functioning.
8. Will eight hours of sleep from, say, 10 p.m. – 6 a.m. have the same effect as eight hours of sleep from 2 a.m.–10 a.m?
Yes, as long as those hours are aligned with your body's natural circadian preference and rhythm.
9. What is the relationship between sleep and working out? Specifically, how do workouts affect sleep, and how does sleep affect workouts?
Strenuous workouts late at night, close to bedtime, may negatively impact sleep quality. On the other hand, light stretching or an evening stroll may be helpful.
10. Any parting advice or life hacks for falling asleep faster?
The harder one tries to sleep, the harder it gets. Have a routine for winding down—free of screens. (Paper books are fine.) Be consistent with your routine. Make sleep a priority. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” mode on your devices three hours prior to bedtime.
I have likened falling asleep to trying to catch a butterfly. Your best bet is to let it come to you.