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Are you waking up tired after a night of rest? It could be because you're unknowingly sabotaging your sleep.
Enter three relatively new sleep issues that are becoming more common in today’s digital age. Former insomniac and author of "The Sleep Fix", Diane Macedo explains the psychology behind each new scientific term—and how to address them to improve your sleep.
Issue #1: Being a “Sleep Perfectionist”
"This occurs if you have become obsessed with trying to get the ‘perfect’ sleep," Diane explains. "This is a relatively new term from sleep scientists that I translate to ‘sleep perfectionism.’"
"Essentially, thanks in part to sleep trackers, people are becoming so obsessed with trying to get a perfect sleep score or beat last night's sleep amount or hit some other sleep target, that they're giving themselves insomnia. So, instead of improving their sleep, they end up with difficulty sleeping when they used to sleep just fine," she says.
How To Fix “Sleep Perfectionism"
Tip #1: Instead of focusing on sleep *performance*, focus on your *relationship* with sleep.
"Because just like in a human relationship, if you start trying too hard, being too rigid and trying to force sleep to happen a certain way, sleep's not going to want to hang out with you anymore," Diane says.
"So yes, there's a ton we can do to make sleep more likely, but a crucial piece to that puzzle is learning how to relax and let go...often that's when sleep finally shows up," she adds.
Tip #2: Ditch the sleep tracker.
"Sleep trackers can be a great tool but not if they make you obsess about the details of your sleep. And if you have trouble sleeping, knowing how much REM sleep vs. deep sleep you got is not going to help you anyway," Diane explains.
"Instead, consider a daily check-in. Ask yourself, how do I feel today? Do you feel sleepy during the day, like you're dozing off at your desk? That's a sign that you're not getting enough sleep. Or do your energy levels feel pretty good? That's a sign that you're probably sleeping fine, even if you didn't get a 90% sleep score," Diane says.
Tip #3: Look at sleep on a weekly basis, not daily.
"Everyone has a bad night here and there, but it's when we look at the big picture that patterns start to emerge. And I like [to keep] a sleep diary for this, because you can focus on the basics: your bedtime, how long it took to fall asleep, did you wake up overnight [and] what time did you wake up in the morning. You can note anything you think might have impacted your sleep that night," she explains.
This does two things:
1) By writing our habits down...we often start to improve them.
2) When you look at this data after a week or two, clues will jump out about what's causing your sleep problems.
"Then, you can either tackle them yourself if that's appropriate, or you can take that sleep diary to a sleep specialist to help them diagnose and treat you that much faster. You can do this with a notebook, but I just designed a digital sleep diary, to try to make this as easy as possible for everyone," Diane says.
Issue #2: Staying Up Late to Reclaim Time for Yourself
"Basically, we're so busy now that this is what people do to get ‘me time’ — we sacrifice sleep as a way of getting ‘revenge’ for our overpacked schedules. The scientific term for this is called ‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination,’" Diane explains.
"An example might be that you're sleepy and its bedtime, but you decide to mindlessly scroll Instagram for an hour instead (we're guilty of this!). Unfortunately, while it feels good in the moment, the resulting sleep deprivation can have significant negative effects and can lead to a cycle. The next day, you feel more rundown, and as a result, feel you need to take even more ‘revenge’ the next night," she adds.
How to To Fix "Revenge Bedtime Procrastination"
Tip #1: Reduce FOMO with Audio Entertainment
"Incorporate a book, podcast, or any soothing audio you like INTO your bedtime. Just put the audio on a sleep timer and listen to it as you drift off. This gives you something (besides sleep) to look forward to as you head to bed. This can help eliminate the FOMO that often fuels bedtime procrastination," says Diane.
"It also allows you to get ‘me time’ by doing something that's just for you — without cutting into your sleep. Bonus: listening to audio like this can also help us to relax, and help you fall asleep faster," she adds.
Tip #2: Set a “Last Call” Alarm
"Just like a bar informs customers when it's their last chance to get a drink, the last-call alarm is a gentle notice to yourself to finish whatever tasks you want to get done today or officially put them off until tomorrow," she explains.
"Having tasks done or officially moved to tomorrow's to-do list can help you relax instead of having all these tasks swirling around your head. It also helps to ensure you get some downtime in *before* bedtime. Bonus: just the act of making a to-do list has been shown to help people fall asleep faster," Diane adds.
Tip #3: Try Breather Boundaries
"Choose activities that have a distinct end to them like watching one episode of a tv show or completing a puzzle. This way, the activity is stopping for you and giving you a sense of completion, as opposed to scrolling social media or playing a never-ending video game where *you* must decide to stop and it always feels like you're not quite done yet," Diane explains.
"If you're really attached to that unbounded activity, set a timer for yourself. Decide that you will scroll Instagram or play that video game for say 30 minutes and set a timer to remind you when that 30 minutes is up. This way, you can enjoy that activity and unwind but still get that nudge to stop, check in with yourself and realize that it's time for bed," she adds.
Tip #4: Address the Root Cause
"Get curious about why you're feeling this way at the end of the day and explore ways to change that. Maybe you can rearrange your schedule, or take something off your plate. Or, if it feels like no matter how much you get done, your brain is like a browser with 20 tabs open, talk to your doctor about that. There might be something else at play," Diane notes.
"I say this from experience. As someone who recently got diagnosed with ADHD myself, I now know that what often fuels my nighttime angst isn't because I didn't do enough that day or because there's too much on my plate, but because that's how my brain works: it focuses on lots of things at the same time. And just knowing that has helped me to relax in that state and realize the best thing for me at that point is sleep not scrolling," she says.
Issue #3: Sleeping in on the Weekends
"What happens here is your body basically thinks you traveled to a different time zone, and it adjusts to that. Scientists named this ‘social jet lag.’ So, you start getting sleep signals later at night, and wake signals later in the morning. Hence, when the weekend's over and you're wide awake with the ‘Sunday Scaries,’ [you’re] dying to stay in bed on Monday morning. Your body probably shifts back by Wednesday or Thursday, only to do it all over again," Diane explains.
How To Fix "Social Jet Lag"
Tip #1: Limit Your Sleep-In Time to Under an Hour
"While it’s generally advised to wake up at the same time every day, if you sleep in for less than an hour on weekends, you're 'statistically safe' from circadian-related negative effects. So, if you have a rough night or rough week, set the alarm for up to 45 minutes after your usual wake time to sneak in some extra sleep without confusing your circadian rhythm," Diane says.
Tip #2: Try an Old Fashioned Nap
"Napping is another alternative to reducing sleep debt, but timing matters here too. If possible, try to wake up at your usual time and expose yourself to light for at least two hours: that timed light exposure is incredibly powerful for setting your body clock," she explains.
"After that, you can take a nap without much impact to your circadian rhythm. General recommendations are 20-minutes for a power nap, or if you're looking for a longer snooze, aim for 60 to 90 minutes," she adds.
Tip #3: Go to Bed Earlier the Next Day
"If you have a big Friday night and then a low-key Saturday, going to bed a little earlier is the least likely option to mess with your body clock. But don't go overboard—think 15 maybe 30 minutes early (not 2 hours early)—and more importantly, only go to bed early if you feel sleepy at that time," Diane says.
Tip #4: Suck It Up on Sunday
"With all the doom and gloom out there, we can get really caught up in trying to ‘repay’ our sleep dept, but to a degree, our body does that automatically. Let's say you got two hours less sleep yesterday than usual. When you go to bed tonight, your body will automatically prioritize deep and REM sleep over light sleep, and you'll sleep more efficiently," she says.
"That means even though you're spending your usual amount of time in bed, you're getting more sleep. So, if you regularly have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, maybe you're also a bad napper and can't fall asleep early. It's often recommended to just suck it up for the day," Diane explains.
"Even after a late night, wake up at your usual time the next morning, go to bed at your usual time the next night—and let your body do the rest. You'll be tired on that day, but then you get a great night's sleep and you're set up for success the rest of the week," she adds.