How to Improve Your Sleep Habits

If you want to be consistently productive in 2017, you need good sleep habits.

When someone asks me to help them be productive, I start by asking when they go to bed. Nine times out of ten the answer is midnight or later. The same people who put sleep on the backburner struggle to get up in the morning, be on time, get their tasks done, and cultivate healthy habits in fitness and diet. That’s why a productive lifestyle all turns on this single point: sleep.

All of your goals for the new year depend on how much sleep you get. Your energy to pursue new hobbies, your attention to work toward that promotion, your desire to get into God’s Word, your hope to lose fat and build muscle all depend on how you discipline your sleep habits. If you struggled to be productive this year, don’t expect anything to change until your sleep patterns change.

This is perhaps the most undisciplined area in the American lifestyle. We celebrate lack of sleep like it’s a badge of honor, when really it’s a sign of a foolish lack of stewardship. Think I’m coming down on this topic a little heavy? I am! This is not just a physical issue – it’s a spiritual one.

Recognize Your Need for Sleep

God created us with a need for sleep. Before technology invaded our lives and homes, and even before electricity, sleep came more naturally. When it got dark, we went to bed. Now we stay up late to work, to watch, or to play, only to rise the next morning groggy and poorly rested. We have no idea just how detrimental this is to our health and focus – or maybe we do, and we just ignore it.

But we can’t afford to ignore it. We need sleep. God designed sleep as a necessary part of the human existence. To ignore it is to spurn God’s design. As John Piper puts it:

“Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Don’t let the lesson be lost on you.” (Read the rest)

Don’t pretend you don’t need sleep – you do! BusinessInsider recognized twenty three benefits to getting more sleep, including:

  • You build muscle faster
  • Your focus improves
  • You learn skills faster
  • You become a better driver
  • It’s the best way to stay fit
  • You have more stable emotions

Not to mention the plethora of health benefits to a good night’s sleep.

To refuse discipline in this area is to refuse God’s design. We do not get to decide we “don’t need sleep”, and if we want to see positive changes in work, love, and recreation, sleep has to be the first thing to change.

Learn How to Go to Sleep

Even if you recognize the benefits of sleep, many people complain that they can’t fall asleep – so rather than learn how, they stay up until exhaustion forces them to slumber.

Quite often, this inability to fall asleep is linked to technology use:

Using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop at bedtime may be staving off sleep, according to Harvard Medical School scientists, who have found specific wavelengths of light can suppress the slumber-inducing hormone melatonin in the brain. (Newsweek)

So if you spend your evenings staring at a screen, that’s probably why you lay in bed for an hour each night!

The solution here isn’t to “bide time” by staring at more screens. The first step is to create an evening routine so your mind and body recognize when it’s time for bed. Then, if you struggle to fall asleep (like I used to), try one of these tips.

Personally, I use the 4-7-8 breathing trick to help me fall asleep in under a minute – or five, but either one is a victory. A few other tricks I use to fall asleep each evening:

  • Read fiction at bedtime as opposed to nonfiction. I don’t read much fiction, but by reading it in the evening it turns my mind off “doing” mode.
  • Go to bed with your spouse when possible. Josh and I have gone to bed together for the last 2.5 years when we’re both home. We can talk, read aloud, and not feel like we’re missing out on what the other person is doing.
  • Don’t drink caffeine past noon.
  • When Adeline was little, we stopped cosleeping at 4 weeks and started sleep training at six weeks. She was in her own crib at one month old. If you’re a parent struggling with sleep, take an honest look at your parenting and the structure in your home. Chances are the two are connected. I’m a better parent when I have enough energy and focus to give her my best. Sleep training her was the best decision we ever made – both for her and for us (I recommend the BabyWise series for this).

Set a Bed Time

Your mornings and evenings are connected by sleep. If you want to get a jump on your morning routine or boost your productivity as a mom, you need to set a bed time!

Josh and I get up at 5:30 AM, so we go to bed by 9:30 PM. This doesn’t mean we’re always asleep by 9:30; more often than not we’re reading aloud or talking until 10-10:30. What matters is that the process is started, and even if we fall asleep by 10:30 we’re still getting seven hours.

Your bedtime is essential to your productivity. Certainly there will be some exceptions – parties, late work nights and the like. But make your bedtime a priority and you’ll have much more energy for every day.

Naps Don’t Compensate for Lack of Sleep

While naps can help us survive tough seasons and weird work schedules, they don’t compensate for a lack of good sleep.

Power naps play a key role in supplementing regular sleep patterns, but don’t fall prey to the belief that they can replace hours of deep sleep. Once you decide to power nap, set a timer or alarm for 20 or 30 minutes to ensure that you don’t oversleep, which can cause your body to shift from power napping to full-fledged sleeping. If this happens and you awaken during the middle of a sleep cycle, you can experience sleep inertia — excessive grogginess, fatigue and disorientation that can completely offset the potential benefits of taking a nap.” (Read more)

Take the time to get a good night’s sleep. Recognize the spiritual practice of rest; your need to take time away from the urgent to let your body do what God designed it to do. Sleep rejuvenates your body for what God has called you to do. You need it!

Sleep is the most powerful cognitive enhancer we know of, and without it people are much more impaired than they realize. Just as a drinker emerging from the bar is not the best judge of his ability to drive, many of society’s four-hour sleepers should not be operating heavy machinery. (Read more)

Need more tips on improving sleep so you can achieve grace-driven productivity? Click here.