Reimagining Sleep Health: The Power of Perception Matters More Than You Think

Rethinking Sleep Health

Have you ever woken up in the morning, glanced at your sleep tracker and been surprised to see that it has given you a thumbs-up, yet you still feel tired? If so, you're not alone, and it turns out that our perceptions of how we've slept play a much larger role in our well-being than the actual data from our sleep trackers.

I recently stumbled upon a compelling new study out of the University of Warwick. It underlines an interesting concept about sleep that is often overlooked: it's not only about “how much” or “how deep” we sleep, but “how you feel” about it that truly matters.

A New Perspective on Sleep

This intriguing study shifts the focus from the numbers and puts a spotlight on the profound role our perceptions and feelings play in our overall well-being. It emphasizes that our mindset, our subjective sense of how well we've slept, can significantly influence our mood and wellness. Thus, if you wake up convinced you've had a refreshing night's sleep, you're more likely to feel energized and ready to seize the day!

However, this raises an important question: what happens when our sleep tracker shows satisfactory figures, but we still feel tired?

Aligning Perception and Reality

The study suggests it's more about what's going on in our minds than just the numbers. This insight aligns perfectly with what we've known for ages: our feelings and emotions are deeply tied to our own experiences, and they don't always conform to objective metrics.

So, it seems we need to recalibrate our understanding of sleep health. Yes, the physiological aspects – getting those quality Zzz's – are crucial. But we need to give more credit to our feelings about sleep. A great night's sleep isn't just about hitting certain numbers but waking up feeling genuinely refreshed and ready to tackle the day.

Reshaping Our Mindsets Towards Sleep

So what's the game plan? How can we align our perception of sleep with reality and wake up feeling well-rested? Here are three strategies to start with:

1. Morning Gratitude: Start each day by reflecting on something you appreciated about your sleep – perhaps a dream or the comfort of your bed. This simple practice could set a positive tone for your day.

2. Embrace Variation: Understand that sleep quality can naturally vary from day to day, and that's perfectly okay. Avoid labeling your sleep as ‘good' or ‘bad,' but instead, accept whatever sleep you had and decide to make the best out of your day anyway.

3. Focus on the Feel: Tune in to how rested you feel rather than how many hours you slept. While we want to aim for at least 7 hours, some nights we need to appreciate quality over quantity.

By honing our perceptions and paying attention to how we feel, we can create a positive shift in our sleep experience. Because, at the end of the day, feeling rested, refreshed and ready for the day truly matters!

Practical Strategies for Better Sleep

Here are some additional practical tips that have helped many of my clients improve their sleep:
1. Establish a Bedtime Routine: If you have kids, you know the importance of a good bedtime routine. A routine provides a structure and predictability that allows kids to start winding down and fall asleep faster.
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe we ever really “outgrow” the need for a good bedtime routine. Think of yourself like an overgrown toddler if it helps, and create a bedtime routine that will bring some order to your life in the hours leading up to bed.

2. Limit Screen Time: Avoid screens one to two hours before bed. The blue light they emit can disrupt our natural sleep cycles. Research has revealed that light is a powerful factor in aligning our daily routines and has a major impact on our body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm.

3. Set a “Caffeine Curfew:” Stop consuming caffeine at least six hours before bed to ensure it's out of your system when you're ready to sleep.

4. No Alcohol Late in the Day: Despite being a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can hurt your overall sleep quality by causing imbalances in your sleep stages. To reduce the risk of sleep disruptions, stop drinking alcohol at least four hours before bedtime.

5. Exercise Daily: Research suggests that as little as 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise can make a difference in sleep quality that very same night.

Exercise can help you reduce stress and quiet your mind, leading to more restful sleep. Additionally, it can increase the amount of deep sleep you get, which is the stage of sleep where your brain and body have a chance to recharge.

If you have done everything you can and still have a rough night, try these tricks from my upcoming book, A Few Good Habits, to give yourself a boost: drink cold water with lemon first thing in the morning, get some sunshine to kick-start the awake phase of your circadian rhythm, exercise lightly, take a power nap before 3 p.m., and prioritize your tasks.

And remember, you have more control over your energy than you give yourself credit for! If you catastrophize and mope around saying how tired you are all day, well, you’ll probably feel more tired – as the study out of Warwick has shown us!

If you tell yourself that one bad night’s not the end of the world and summon the energy to get through the day, you will probably make it through the day with more pep in your step.

How do you ensure a good night's sleep? What are your tips or habits? Let's chat about it in the comments! 💤

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