Your happiness depends on the QUALITY of your sleep.

Posted on : June 7, 2012

Last week, I challenged you to set a bedtime to get an additional hour of sleep per night (check out details here).  Did it work?  Do you feel different?  Happier, perhaps?

It turns out that just spending more time in bed isn’t always enough — it’s the amount of quality sleep that matters most when trying to sleep our way happy.

Today I’ll be providing some tips for increasing the quality of your sleep.  First, those tips that you’ve probably heard before (but I’m going to mention them because they work):

  • Eliminate caffeine after 2pm.  Right?  Seems obvious.  And if you’re getting enough high-quality sleep, you won’t need a Diet Coke at 5pm to make it through your evening.
  • Reduce fluids after 8pm.  Waking up to pee is a bummer on sleep quality.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.  So obvious I can’t even comment…
  • Don’t have stressful conversations or do anxiety-producing work right before bed.  Those emotions head into sleep with you.

One you’ve tackled these entry-level fixes, you’re ready to move on to the many additional ideas that research has uncovered.  Most aren’t quite so obvious; some of them are even counter-intuitive.

Reduce alcohol intake.  Yes, alcohol makes you sleepy, so why not have a night cap to help send you into LaLa land?  It turns out that while alcohol can help you fall asleep; it also makes your sleep much lighter and more fragmented.  This significantly reduces the time spent in the two most important stages of sleep: deep sleep, the most restorative stage, and REM sleep, where you consolidate memories and learning from the day.  While there is no problem having a glass of wine at dinner or a beer after work, more than that can greatly interrupt the quality of your sleep.

Turn off the screens.  While tv or web surfing (or even playing Plant vs. Zombies on your iPad…) may feel like it helps you wind down, these activities are very stimulating and fill your eyes with light, both of which can keep you awake and engaged well after your body may want to sleep.  Ideally, try to turn off the screen for a full hour before bedtime.  If that feels too draconian, give yourself at least 30 minutes.  Reading can be a good use of that time while still allowing your body to get ready for sleep.

Maintain bedtime and wake-up times.  Evolution has pushed us to be creatures of habit when it comes to sleep.  By keeping a specific bedtime and get-up time, you greatly strengthen your circadian cycle and increase the quality of your sleep.  This is pretty easy for most of us to do during the highly scheduled weekdays, but it’s important to keep close to that schedule on weekends as well.  An hour one way or another can be absorbed, but really late nights and late sleep-ins on the weekends can greatly confuse your body, interrupting your sleep for several days.  (Do you really need to stay at the club til 2am?  Or watch ‘Inception’ again, right now?  No one is going to see that hilarious facebook post until tomorrow anyway…)

Keep your bedroom cool.  Lower body temperature helps us sleep and higher body temperatures wake us up.  If your room is too warm or you have too many blankets, the increased body temperature will interrupt the quality of your sleep.  Of course, spending a night shivering isn’t going to let you sleep either, so play with what works for you.  The experts recommend something between 55 and 75 oF.

Exercise.  It really is the wonder drug.  Exercise not only keeps you healthy and directly makes you happier (see post here), it also helps you sleep better.  And this doesn’t have to be hard-core sweat-filled workouts at the gym either; just 30 minutes of moderate exercise over the course of the day is enough.  And if your schedule allows it, you get the most sleep benefit with exercise 3 to 6 hours before bed.

Whether or not you took on last week’s challenge to add another hour of sleep:  try implementing a few of these tips for increasing the quality of your sleep.   The goal is to find yourself waking up refreshed around the time your alarm is to go off.  As you have more quality sleep you’ll start to feel happier!  Give it a shot!!!

Next week I’ll be sharing some very surprising research about how to get back into a good sleep routine, for those of us who suffer insomnia.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach