My neighbor’s baby cries. A lot.
He’s a tiny little thing—only 3 months old—but he sure can make a scene. I hear him wailing as I walk to yoga in the morning. I hear him wailing as I unpack groceries from my car. His angry cries sore through my office windows while I work.
The thing is you really can’t fault the guy, it’s his only real method of communication at this point, and babies have a lot to communicate. When they’re cold. When they’re hot. When they’re hungry. When they’re tired. When they’re uncomfortable. When they need to be held.
We’re all born with a pretty keen sense of our needs—what our bodies and souls crave to be healthy and whole. As we grow up we don’t just cry less because we’ve learned more effective communication tools, we also learn to tamp down our instincts, deny our real needs, and look for shortcuts to success. But as we continue on in this way of life one thing becomes abundantly clear: it doesn’t really work.
One of the prevalent ways this plays out is when it comes to sleep. The average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep per night. We know it’s good for us, but a good night’s sleep is one of the first things we let go. We begin to get up earlier, stay up later, trying to squeeze more out of the day. We tell ourselves it’s for the best—after all, we have things to do, goals to meet. If we want to make the most of this life we better be awake for it, use up every minute.
But when we live this way—running on fumes—it has the opposite effect of what we’re after. We’re run down. We’re unhealthy. Our cognitive and emotional abilities are impaired, and we aren’t nearly as productive as we think we are.
We think we’re maximizing our time, maximizing ourselves, ignoring the truth that the strongest way forward is found through taking care of ourselves.
When we regularly get enough sleep our bodies have time to reset and refresh. We’re healthier, we get sick less often, and have a lower risk of serious health problems. We’ll also find that sleep helps us maintain a healthier weight—we have more energy for good choices: grilling the salmon over grabbing a frozen pizza, eating a kick-start breakfast over swinging through the drive-through.
Sleep also helps us with focus and efficiency, enabling us to do better at work and accomplish more in less time. It reduces stress, improves our mood, and betters our relationships. I think we all know how much easier it is to get along, offer grace, and make better decisions when we’re not completely empty.
In fact, sleep is so central to a thriving lifestyle that it’s worth it to adjust your schedule to ensure your eight hours per night. But don’t forget, it’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality, too. Stress, anxiety, pain, alcohol, and certain medications are some of the biggest barriers to sleeping soundly—and they’re all things that can plague each of us at times.
So how do we embrace the eight hours and gain back our energy, focus, and health? Here are four starting points.
1. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Most of us have done this: we try to regulate our energy levels and sleep cycles with uppers and downers. Let’s pull way back on the alcohol and caffeine, and we’ll enjoy both a better night’s sleep, and natural, vibrant energy to start the new day.
2. Seek out natural ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain levels. We can’t ignore these things and expect to live an abundant life. While there may be situations that require medical attention, for many of us a natural approach will provide an incredible amount of relief. Let’s look into dietary changes and supplements, daily exercise, meditation, and journaling to find relief.
3. Eliminate screens the last hour of each day. Not only will this help decrease stress and anxiety, but all that blue light emanating from our devices depletes the amount of melatonin in our bodies, making it more difficult to stay asleep.
4. Institute a calming bedtime routine. This one is personal! Maybe you like to take a warm shower before you pop on your sweats. Maybe a hot mug of herbal tea is a part of your nightly ritual alongside a book or a quiet conversation with a spouse or partner. Find what works for you—what eases you toward calm—and make it your routine. Each night it will signal to your body that the day is done.
Let’s give ourselves the green light on an earlier bedtime. We’ll find that we have more energy and focus to achieve our goals, and we’ll be happier and healthier in the process.