The science of sleep

The science of sleep

When we close our eyes for the night, our mind cycles through different stages of sleep:

  • Light sleep: Which is most similar to being awake
  • REM (or Rapid-Eye-Movement): Where our minds are asleep but active and where dreams are most likely to happen
  • Deep sleep: Where our mind is in “regeneration” mode

So many things can get in the way of us reaching deep sleep, from stress and burnout to late-night screen usage, eating late, and physical issues. To make sure we reach our deep, restorative sleep, we need a proper evening routine.

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Benefits of an evening routine

Haphazard evening routines can have serious effects on our sleep. 

The right evening routine helps us wind down, relax, and get into a deep, restorative sleep—making us refreshed and ready for tomorrow.

For most of us it is the mind, rather than the body, that disrupts restorative sleep.

To cleanse our mind of the leftover responsibilities of the day, we need to bring a mental wind down into our evening routine.

Your evening routine doesn’t simply need to be about relaxation. The reason those thoughts keep our brains active long into the night is usually because we feel some aspect of our life is out of our control.

Spend time in the evening to write down your 3 MITs (Most Important Things) for tomorrow. Add other preparations to your evening routine such as checking the weather and picking out your clothes for the day, packing your lunch, and tidying up a bit so you wake up to a clean house.

Reflect on the day

Your evening routine is a fantastic place to reflect on what you did today.

Writing down a list of positive events at the close of a day—and why those events made us happy—lowers stress levels and gives us a greater sense of calm at night.

Instead, pick up a book. Reading for as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by up to 68%.

If you do want to watch a movie at night, try to work it into your schedule earlier in the evening. The goal should be to leave at least an hour or two before bed where you’re screen-free.

Going to sleep at a consistent time is an important part of our “sleep hygiene”—the practices that insure we get regular, deep sleep. 

Commit to a daily bedtime and waking time and try not to waver too far from them (even on the weekends).

A study from Albion College revealed that tasks requiring creative insight were consistently better during their non-optimal times of the day.

If you can’t sleep, you can at least use the time productively.

Exercise during the day can help us get more quality sleep but it can also be a great part of our evening routine. 

Buffer CEO, Joel Gascoigne likes to unwind with a brisk walk right before bed. He uses his walks to turn off his thoughts about work and slowly transition into a “state of tiredness.”

The National Institute of Health found that alcohol robs you of quality sleep. When you drink or eat late-night snacks, it keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep and prevents you from falling into deeper, more restorative sleep. 

In most cases, you want at least a few hours between your last drink and your bedtime.

If you can’t sleep, it might be your room’s fault. 

Excess noise and light can keep us awake. Temperature also plays a big role. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for shut-eye is around 65 degrees.

When you lie in bed thinking for long periods of time, you teach your brain to automatically go into “thinking” mode rather than “sleeping” mode when you lie down. 

To break this connection, don’t try to fall asleep in bed for longer than 10–20 minutes. If you pass this threshold, get up, go into another room, and do something relaxing like reading or meditating until you feel sleepy again. Repeat this process as many times as necessary.

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Plan Out Your Morning

Take a few minutes to pick out an outfit, decide what you’re going to eat for breakfast, prepare your work bag, or even write a short to-do list of the things you need to accomplish before you head to the office.

Even if you don’t have every detail of your morning thought out, doing this gets the stressful thoughts out of your brain and makes you feel less scrambled when it’s game time.

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IDEAS

A night routine is the things you do immediately prior to going to bed.

Three benefits of having a decent night routine:

  • You’ll have a more restful and higher-quality sleep.
  • You’ll be able to tackle the morning in a smoother and more productive way.
  • Your brain will be sharper throughout the next day.
The Brain as a Snowy Hill

The snowy hill represents the brain, the people sledding are like the memories, and the trails left behind are the synapses in the brain.

Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.

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