How to get more sleep and feel good about it
By Janine Stichter, Ph.d
19 November 2016
I overheard the following conversation the other day in a large group of women.
“Wow your skin looks really good, did you have some work done?”
“Uh, no. But I have been prioritizing getting some more sleep the last few months and I feel like it’s really helped, thanks”
“Sleep? Seriously? Must be nice, I average 5 hours a sleep a night with work, the kids and just getting everything else done”
These comments were followed by two other women chiming in:
“It’s amazing how you get everything done,” and “I wish I could get half as much done with 5 hours of sleep.”
It went on and on.
How did a compliment about skin tone become sleep shaming?
Is it more acceptable to have “work done” then to get sleep?
We all “know” the recommendation is to get about 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.
We “know” there are associated health benefits including the reduction of dark circles, better cognitive functioning, better appetite control to name a few.
The problem, however, is that we are not encouraged to get sleep in our culture.
TV shows depict geniuses that require little to no sleep.
Interviews with successful men and women on finding work/home balance talk about how they get up at 4am to work out, get two hours of work in before anyone is up, do family in the evening and then go back to work again until the wee hours.
Celebrities are interviewed about how they stay so youthful and stunning. When they list 8-10 hours of sleep a night, we shun them as out of touch.
We herald our friends and family who can do it all with little sleep. We compliment them, make a big deal about it or at least sympathize with them.
When was the last time you asked someone how they were and they said, “Good! I’ve been
sleeping well and I feel great”?
You don’t. Because we as a culture wouldn’t respond well to it.
Instead people share how little sleep they get- almost as a badge of honor.
We hear it a lot that we are all over worked.
The problem is that when we look at why we are worn out and over worked, we focus on how to reduce our workload. Further, even when we are successful at reducing it for, say a 30 minute block, what we do is fill it with some new task (TV watching, going out with friends, etc.).
We don’t fill it with more sleep.
That is because we have defined the problem as too much work, not a lack of sleep.
I like to recommend that people ask themselves, “Am I over worked or simply under rested?”
We might be both, but given the known benefits of sleep, focusing on that can have a potentially significant impact on the rest of our lives.
Changing our behavioral habits is rarely effective when the focus is on doing less of something.
Focusing on a replacement behavior or a new behavior is key.
Eating less chips is pointless if I do not have a better alternative snack to focus on when I am hungry, stressed, bored etc. So just “eating less” is not going to be something I can sustain.
I can try to reduce tasks on my schedule, but I am tired, busy, and people count on me, so doing less will not be sustainable unless I get more sleep and can truly become more effective during the day with my current tasks.
The same strategies for getting more sleep are ones most of us already use for things like
getting our workout in, eating healthier, and spending more quality time with friends and family.
We create an initial realistic goal, plan to work toward our goal, schedule time to make sure it happens, and then set new goals as we reach previous goals.
Personally, I don’t know anyone who has their calendar blocked off when they are sleeping.
If you need to go to a meeting or get a project done, don’t you block that time off your calendar?
If you are planning to work out 3 times a week, don’t you carve out time?
As with any goal, we will not hit our mark all of the time, but we won’t hit anything if we do not set the goal, and create a plan to meet it.
Next time someone asks you how you are, challenge yourself to share your goals and successes of getting good sleep.
Reinforce others who are on the same journey.