1 in 3 Americans are sleep-deprived, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our never-stop modern lifestyles demand more and more from us each day, so many of us start to sacrifice sleep to have more hours in the day. And when we do want to sleep, the momentum of our lives keeps us from finding rest. Thoughts race through our minds, so we kill time watching television and browsing our phones.
That makes sleep even harder to achieve, of course, but we feel helpless. What else can we do if we can’t sleep anyway?
Many Americans shrug and carry on when they start to feel this way, accepting that they will always feel a bit tired until they can sleep away the weekend, just in time for the cycle to start all over again Sunday night.
The Check Engine Light Is On
If food is like gas for your car, then sleep is your engine oil. If you don’t change your engine oil with the right frequency, your engine suffers. Performance drops. Efficiency drops. And the likelihood of a breakdown goes up.
If you’re a few hundred miles late for an oil change, you probably won’t notice any strain on your engine at all. However, if you continue to fall farther and farther behind on your oil change schedule, the strain adds up. Not only will your engine perform far below its true potential, but it won’t last nearly as long as it should either.
That’s the trap of ignoring your sleep needs: At first you don’t realize the impact it has on the rest of your life. By the time you do notice the impact, the bustle of society might convince you that what you’re feeling is normal and unavoidable if you want a fulfilling life.
That’s not true. In fact, Habits of Healthy Sleep can improve nearly all aspects of your life, including potentially increasing your longevity.
In my books, I describe a bedtime routine as a digital sunset. If you are struggling with your sleep, there is a big chance that the root cause is the screens in your life. Your computer, your phone, your television – these devices can lead to your body withholding the sleep response, which is why you might feel physically tired but still can’t seem to sleep.
- Screens confuse your circadian rhythms, which use sunlight to manage your internal clock. For cavemen, if the sun is going down, it’s time to sleep, but for you and your brain, your devices become the sun. The light tells your body to stay awake even when it should be sleeping.
- Doom-scrolling can trigger stress and anxiety. Even if light from devices didn’t affect your body’s natural mechanisms, reading an angry email or watching a news video right before bed can put your brain on high alert. When your body feels stressed, it assumes you are under threat and keeps you awake.
- Scrolling addiction is real. The speed of modern media means that a new hit of dopamine – the substance that creates feelings of pleasure in your brain – is just a finger flick away. If you have ever stayed awake thinking, “Just one more video,” then you’ve been trapped in a dopamine loop and lost sleep because of it.
You don’t need to give up all of your favorite devices and media to improve your sleep, but you do need to remove them from your nightly routine. An hour before your bedtime, turn your screens off, lower the lights, run a bath, and read a book. Personally, I treasure this time and view it as a reward. That time to unwind and turn off the world is incredibly peaceful, and the sleep that comes after is calm and restful.
You deserve to feel that same calm and that same sense of being rested, so join me and add a digital sunset to your own routine.